We've all watched bees pollinate flowers: they buzz from stem to stem, landing only for a moment before jetting off, precious cargo in tow. But if there's one thing this high-speed video from Smithsonian Channel has taught us, it's that we've never really seen it.

Pollinating bumblebees in slow motion look like they're magicking up pixie dust!


In the simple version of pollination proceedings we all know, bees cruise around to find food – sweet energy-rich nectar for adults and protein-packed pollen for the young back at the hive – while performing a crucial service for their hosts in return: they effectively allow flowering plants to "have sex" by helping pollen (plant sperm) get around.

But bees and plants have been evolving, wing by petal, for millions of years, and the dance between plant and pollinator can take many inspired forms – just look at the strange bee-luring trickery of the orchid! As for the bumblebee in this video, it has a nifty trick of its own: buzz pollination.  

Bees pollinate about a third of everything we eat, but some of our favourite foods, including tomatoes, potatoes, kiwi fruit and blueberries, come from plants that prefer to keep their pollen tightly locked up. And bumblebees are among the small number of pollinators (honey bees are not!) who hold the key to getting it out. 

The bee first latches on firmly to the flower's pollen-bearing parts with its jaws, and then, without moving its wings, begins to vibrate its flight muscles hundreds of times per second – shaking the pollen free. 

Around eight percent of the world’s flowering plants – more than 20,000 species – require a bit of buzzing action (also known as sonication) before they'll give up the goods. And it all looks rather beautiful in slow motion:


Top header image: Tom Blackwell, Flickr