Nature on our doorsteps: It’s all about the buzz

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

The rapid beating of insects’ wings causes the air to vibrate, making the buzzing sound that we hear as being either pleasant or panic-inducing!

Different species of bees, flies and beetles will buzz or hum at different pitches or frequencies. Bigger insects have a slower wingbeat, so the pitch of their buzz sounds lower. 

Honeybees cannot buzz pollinate so they visit flowers like Dandelions where pollen is easy to collect. compressor

Honeybees buzz-pollinate when they visit flowers like Dandelions where pollen is easy to collect

Some bumblebees, however, buzz differently when they are flying and when they are collecting pollen from a flower. 

These pollinators are adapted to visiting particular types of flowers where the nutrient-rich pollen is stored away inside a slender, cylindrical, structure (the anther). 

Because these anther structures have only a small gap or hole at the top, most pollinators cannot access and collect the pollen.

When the adapted bumblebee lands on these flowers, they stop beating their wings and vibrate their chest muscles instead. This creates a different sounding buzz vibration which loosens the pollen, shaking it out through the small hole in the top of the anther.

Dusted with pollen, the bumblebee moves to another flower of the same type.  

Tomato flowers are pollinated by buzz pollinators compressor

Tomato flowers are pollinated by buzz-pollinators

Some grains are dropped in the process, fertilising the flowers.

Scientists call this type of pollination ‘buzz-pollination’. 

These bumblebees benefit by receiving very rich pollen and, as they mainly seek out only other flowers of the same type, the flower benefits by having a very reliable pollinator!

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