Pollen as a Micro-Wonder of the World!

Posted on May 14, 2017 by Dr. Lynda

Once again, Mother Nature demonstrates her genius for design in a wonder too small for us to appreciate!

Let us get way past the origin of hay-fever and show you a stunningly remarkable and beautiful design in the ordinary world around us: Pollen.

Image: A bee covered with pollen
Source: Jon Sullivan // Wikimedia

See those tiny golden granules covering the bee and the flower it is perched on? That is pollen: one of the most misunderstood designs in nature.

Did you know pollen is used in archaeology and has become a critical player in crime investigations? We were stunned to learn that 50-80% of the world’s food supply relies on bees and pollen in particular.

Some might say those particles are worth their weight in gold, and after today’s Ever Widening Circles (EWC) article, we’ll all have yet another marvel of nature to celebrate!

Like so many things that we don’t really understand, I suspect we will find our negative impulses usually come from a lack of information or misinformation. We’re going to work with that void and come out the other end of this article transformed!

Image: Bee pollinating pussy willow catkins
Source: Pixabay

First up, let’s take a closer look with some stunning close-up photography, and then we have a marvelous TED Talk to point you to; one that most of us might overlook!

Turns out that pollen is one of the best examples of something we can’t appreciate until we know much more.

Take the next vivid photo for example. That is a close-up image of the anthers of an iris flower, loaded with pollen in the most extraordinary shade of purple. Does it take you down the path from fear to awe in some small way?

Image: the pollen of a purple iris
Source: Pixabay

Next, let’s get a better appreciation for the wonder of a single pollen grain. Just look at the geometry and design in the next photo, impossible for us to appreciate without an electron microscope!

Image: Electron Microscope of a grain of pollen
Source: Commons Wikipedia

It takes an eye for design and the passions of a wonderfully curious mind to help us truly admire and understand what we are looking at in the gorgeous photography we will be sharing with you today.

Take a look at the work of a thought-leader in this field from the TED stage, and you will never look at pollen dust, or a pollinator the same!

 

Via: TED 1

Fantastic insights there! I had no idea!

And now we’d like to expand the wonderment of today’s insights by diving even deeper. Once we started looking for images that come up by simply searching “Pollen”, it seemed obvious to take everyone on a little journey of the spirit, with some remarkable photography we found on the web.

If you have a favorite, uplifting song, put it on and take savor the following photos…

Remember our opening image of the bee, now you know more about why the tiny golden grains of pollen are so special.

Image: Bee covered in pollen
Source: Pixabay

Here’s an even closer look…

Image: Bee's face covered with pollen
Source: USGA // Flickr

Next up, if you are the curious sort, you’ve probably seen a bee with large yellow/orange sacks stuck to their legs, like the one in the next photo.

Image: Pollen sacks on a bee's legs
Source: Adirondack Almanac

I always wondered what those were!

Here’s what the fabulous website at the Honey Bee Conservancy has to say about those yellow sacks:

That orange mass on her leg is her basket. It is pollen that she has gathered from flowers she has been visiting during her foraging about. Female bees provision their offspring with pollen (mixed with a little nectar), which means they have to visit numerous flowers (sometimes 100 plus per trip!) to gather enough pollen to feed each offspring that is produced. It would be incredibly inefficient for them to have to travel back to their nest after visiting each flower. So, to be more efficient female bees have a special apparatus for holding and transporting pollen.

The pollen collecting apparatus in apid bees, which include honey bees and bumblebees, is commonly called a ‘pollen basket’ or corbicula. This region is located on the tibia of the hind legs and consists of hairs surrounding a concave region. After the bee visits a flower, she begins grooming herself and brushes pollen gathered on her body down toward her hind legs and packs the pollen into her pollen basket. A little nectar mixed with the pollen keeps it all together, and the hairs in the pollen basket hold it in place. 2

Here’s a close-up image of the leg joint and the hairs of the “pollen basket”. It’s a little easier to understand how this clever design keeps the pollen in place. The pollen would end up being packed into that white concavity and the long hairs hold everything in place.

Image: Close-up of a bee's knee designed for collecting pollen
Source: Gilles San Martin // Wikimedia

Now we’ve focused on bees through most of this article, but most of us know that butterflies are tremendously important pollen carriers too! Here’s a photo of one covered in deep orange colored pollen.

Image: Pollen covering a butterfly
Source: Pixabay

Here’s a lovely monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a milkweed flower with its long, elegantly coiled mouth part called a proboscis…

Image: Monarch butterfly pollinating
Source: Pixabay

And we’ve all seen the classic “bumble bee” dusted with pollen…

Image: A bumble bee covered with pollen
Source: Pixabay

But did you know that bats are incredibly important to some ecosystems as pollinators? In fact, there are plants that simply can not reproduce without regular visits from a specific species of bat.

Here’s a lesser long-nosed bat, its furry head dusted in pollen…

Image: Pollination done by a Long tailed bat
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters // Wikimedia

And for a closer look of how that dusting came about, some ingenious photographer/scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture was able to engineer getting this amazing photo…

Image: Lesser long tailed bat with its head deep in a flower
Source: USDA // Flickr

We learned in the next photo that there are even flies (this is called a syrphid fly) that are important links in the cycles of pollination. Just look at the detail and design connections between this insect and the plant that relies on it!

Image: Syrphid Fly pollinating a flower
Source:Alvesgaspar // Wikimedia

And pollen grains are not picky about who they hitch a ride on. Here’s a common garden pest, so tiny that we could barely discern its existence, called a “spring-tail”, and it is just covered in pollen…

Image: A tiny springtail insect covered with pollen
Source: gbohne // Wikimedia Commons

And while we are still in the domain of the insect pollinators, we could not resist sharing this next image with you.

With any walk in the park, tiny wonders like this are all around us, and yet they often go unnoticed, or worse yet, trampled on!

Image: Beetles pollinating
Source: Pixabay

I’m going to walk through a meadow a lot more carefully, and with a more curious eye, after doing the research for this article!

And that brings us to another  “lovable pollinator”: the hummingbird. A closer look at its head reveals a dusting of golden granules…

Image: Hummingbird
Source: Pixabay

And have you seen this next wonder of Mother Nature’s design: the hummingbird moth?

Image: Hummingbird Moth
Source: IronChris // Wikipedia

You may have seen many of these and never realized they were not hummingbirds! They move and sound just like their namesakes, but they are definitely one of the most interesting moths in the world!

Here’s a second look, a little closer…

Image: Hummingbird Moth
Source: Pixabay

The hummingbird moths use a sipping mouth part to get at nectar, just like butterflies.

And one more example of the way pollinator and flower seem to have evolved together by design; here’s a beautiful image of an Australian Blue-banded Bee, extending its long mouth part down into the throat of the flower, while the tube-like stamens of the plant (the white projection by the bee’s antennae) are positioned perfectly to gather pollen grains from the top of the bee’s head.

Image: Insect on an iris
Source: Chiswick Chap // Wikimedia

And then, when it’s all said and done, if you are a hayfever sufferer,  it all comes down to this next image…

Image: Conifer Pollen

I hope we have expanded that perception about pollen to include some of this…

Image: Close-up of a geranium flower showing individual pollen grains

And much of this…

Image: Butterfly on a solitary daisey
Source: Pexel

It’s a complex and exquisitely beautiful world.

Learning more about pollen reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Einstein,

“Look deeply into nature and you will understand everything better.”  – Albert Einstein

Keep looking deeper and stay open, curious and optimistic!

~ Dr. Lynda

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