"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626


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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bombus pratorum and the Hairiness of Bees

For this six bee commission I  have decided to paint the male of this species. I saw so many of them last year and they are simply enchanting. They were zipping around the tiny flowers of the cotoneaster in the churchyard here. They are easy to spot because of their bright lemony yellow colour and orangy tail, yellow moustache and long silky hair. They are extremely pretty.

 The Hairiness of Bees

Bumble bees differ quite considerably in the quality of their hair. B hortorum for example, has quite long scruffy hair whereas B lapidarius  has closer short dense hair more like velvet. The hair may differ between male and female. The term used for bumble bee hair is “pile” (which always makes me think of carpet). The hairs are referred to as “setae” and have a particular quality. Here is the explanation from the excellent BumbleBee.org which is packed with expert info.

“The other adaptation of the hair is that many are branched or feathery enabling more pollen to stick to them, as can be seen in the scanning electron microscope images (SEM) right, and below.


“When flying a bee builds up an electrostatic charge, the parts of a flower are usually well earthed, the stigma (the bit that leads to the ovary) more so than other flower parts, so as the bee enters the flower the pollen is attracted to the bee's hairs and even grains of pollen that are not touched by the hairs can jump a few millimetres to the nearest hair. When a pollen covered bee enters a flower, because the stigma is better earthed than the other parts of the flower the charged pollen is preferentially attracted to it. So even if the large, hairy, bumblebee fails to brush against the stigma, the pollen can jump the few millimetres necessary for pollination.”

 Text and images from Bumblebee.org

Below another Scanning Electron Microscope photo of the hairs of US species B fraternus from Duke University.

Bumblebee_Bombus_fraternus_sem1_hair duke uni

A photo submitted to Springwatch in 2010 demonstrates the attraction of pollen to bees!


Little bee © Mark Johnson from the 2010 Springwatch Flickr group!

Bombus Pratorum and Cotoneaster

The cotoneaster, where I watched the bees last May, has almost overtaken a particularly nice old grave in a part of the churchyard where wildflower spotting signs are displayed in the summer. I am assuming it’s a Cotoneaster horizontalis, one I particularly like with its spreading, low growing habit, the tiny dainty flowers and leaves contrasting with the lichen covered gnarly branches. There are a couple of small ones in the garden here. I hope there will be bees!

A little B pratorum male.

Working out the pose and composition.

b prat 2 bg

Mr Fluffy :)….

Painting the hair slightly ruffled hair will be a challenge.


Jane Adams said...

Loved this post - learnt loads! It always astonishes me how hairy (or should I say "piled"?) bumbles are (and quite a few of the solitaries). Couldn't resist posting this pic of a particularly hairy B. pratorum (I think?) from a couple of years ago on my garden Hebe http://twitpic.com/88ul0x - Jane

Athena Rayne Anderson said...

Hi Valerie! I just discovered your blog and am really impressed and excited! Impressed at your wonderful drawings, and excited to find someone else blogging about bees! My blog is at www.pollinators.info, and I've been studying bees in the USA for my dissertation. Thanks for helping to teach people about the "other" bees! :)

sharp green pencil said...

Hi there Jane I am glad to see another hairy pratorum!
Athena: thanks so much.. you will know a lot more than I do about bees. I will look forward to catching up with your blog. I may have some USA bees to paint very shortly!