How would you like being punched in the face whenever you go to have a meal? These bees don’t mind!
Alfalfa leafcutter bees take quite the thwap in the face to get to the pollen hidden sneakily inside one of the most important crops to the dairy industry. Let’s take a look at why you should send a little thanks to these sturdy little friends the next time you’re diving into that block of cheese.
We should probably begin with the basics here. Perhaps, like you, I wasn’t entirely sure what makes alfalfa so important. Sure, I’d heard of the pointy-haired character from the beloved movie, The Little Rascals—but the plant? I was pretty fuzzy on what exactly was so important about it.
I looked into it, though, and this is what I found.
Alfalfa is really, really important to agriculture.
If you like ice cream or cheese on your pizza, you probably have alfalfa to thank. As the third largest crop grown in the United States, not only does alfalfa produce protein-rich feed for livestock and survive droughts, it also creates better soil for other crops.
This perennial plant has a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in its deep roots that traps nitrogen in the soil. Because nitrogen is one of the main components of both chlorophyll (the compound plants use to photosynthesize) and amino acids (the building blocks for proteins) 1, growing alfalfa helps prepare the soil for other plants! As a bonus, the crops need less synthetic fertilizer because of all the nutrients its root system traps. 2 3
So, what do these leafcutter bees have to do with this?
Well, they really love alfalfa! The flowers are their favorite food. But there’s a trick to getting to the pollen and nectar hidden inside. Thankfully, these bees have evolved quite a knack for breaking into this rather sneaky bloom!
This is great, not just because the bees have their own little niche food group, but because this pollination needs to happen to produce more seeds for the farmers to plant the next crop. 4 And unlike most of their other bee cohorts, they aren’t thrown off by the punch that these flowers pack.
You see, to access the pollen of the alfalfa flower, the bees need to know a few tricks. This great video from Deep Look lets us in on them!
Yet another way bees support the world!
Learning about all the variations and personalities of the world’s 20,000 species of bees is such a blast. These are the critters that make basically everything possible! All the food on your plate—yes, even the meat and ice cream—is thanks to a bee’s hard work.
Doesn’t discovering more about these little friends make it all the more wonderful to eat that food?!
So, the next time you and your friend are bonding over a shared pint of ice cream or your kid pours milk in their cereal, let them know that bees were punched in the face for this. That’s bound to cheer up almost anyone!
Looking for a few more bee stories to share?
Check out this whole circle of articles we’ve published about these amazing pollinators! You will celebrate every bee you see from here on out!
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- Mosaic Crop Nutrition. “Nitrogen.” Efficient Fertilizer Use Guide Nitrogen | Mosaic Crop Nutrition | . Mosaic Crop Nutrition, 2019. Web. 08 Oct. 2019. <https://www.cropnutrition.com/efu-nitrogen>. ↩
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Alfalfa.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 May 2016. Web. 08 Oct. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/plant/alfalfa>. ↩
- Putnam, Dan, Michael Russelle, Steve Orloff, Jim Kuhn, Lee Fitzburgh, Larry Godfrey, Aaron Kiess, and Rachael Long. “Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment.” University of California, Davis. California Alfalfa and Forage Association, 2001. Web. 8 Oct. 2019. <http://agric.ucdavis.edu/files/242006.pdf>. ↩
- Wikipedia. “Megachile Rotundata.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 June 2019. Web. 08 Oct. 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megachile_rotundata>. ↩
- Deep Look. “This Bee Gets Punched by Flowers For Your Ice Cream.” YouTube. Deep Look, 10 Sept. 2019. Web. 08 Oct. 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsUNxvXofgo&feature=youtu.be ↩