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Wingbeat vibrations cause pollen release: carpenter bee


Xylocopa violacea vibrating wings at flower / Thorsten Wag.. / LicenseCC-by-nc-sa - Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike

The wings of carpenter bees cause pink gentian flowers to release their pollen by beating at a frequency that causes the anthers to vibrate.

"A pink gentian grows in southern Africa, which is pollinated by handsome furry carpenter bees. The flowers of the gentian spread their petals wide, revealing to all a curving white style and three large stamens. Each stamen ends in a long thick anther that seems to be covered in yellow pollen, an obvious temptation to any passing pollen-feeding insect. But that is something of an illusion. The yellow anther is hollow and the pollen is held inside. The only way it can escape is through a tiny hole right at the top of the anther and there is only one way of extracting it. The bee knows how.

"It arrives at the flower making a high-pitched buzzing noise with its wings as most bees do. As it alights on an anther, it continues beating its wings but lowers the frequency so that the note of its buzz suddenly falls to approximately middle C. This causes the anther to vibrate at just the right frequency needed to release the pollen and the grains spout out of the hole at the top in a yellow fountain." (Attenborough 1995:100)
About the inspiring organism
Med_2768885674_3488ff99dc_b Xylocopa

Learn more at
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Warning system for malfunctions based on changes in frequency. Reduce noise pollution by modifying the frequency of vibration in industrial processes.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Engineering, manufacturing, communications

Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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over 4 years ago
Hmmm find this really interesting as i recently did a project on buzz pollination in certain types of bumblebees.
The buzz pollination which is only seen in bumblebees and very few solitary bees such as the one mentioned here, carpenter bee. I found it amazing that the bees vibrate their wing muscles to shake pollen from plants that have loose salt-cellular shaped anthers, plants requiring this mechanism are generally crops such as potatoes, tomatoes’ and egg plants. I had actually found and talked with crop producers who used bumblebees to pollinate these types of crops. They said compared to commercial crop production, using bumblebees is much more efficient and less expensive then artificial cross pollination. The bees are also more precise, each and every flower is pollinated. Crops pollinated by bees provide 30% of human food. Just found it really interesting and quite inspiring.
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