Why are bumblebees hairy?

Question Answered by Cory Braastad, Biological Field Technician, INL ESER Program

Bumblebees are large, gentle giants of the bee world. They are actually the largest of the bees.

Bumblebees are excellent pollinators. It’s actually the females that do most of the pollinating. Their coats are especially furry. This means their coats easily pick up pollen, and transfer it to other plants. They gather pollen from the flower by beating their wings (more than 130 times per second) against the anther of the blossom which holds the pollen. This vibration shakes the pollen from the anther and it gets stuck to their large, hairy bodies. This style of pollination is called buzz pollination. Using this type of pollination can help plants produce more fruit. Bumblebees are also super fast pollinators! Under the same conditions, bumblebees actually pollinate more flowers per bee than honey bees.

There are may plants that are efficiently pollinated by bumblebees. These plants include cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries.

If you would like to see more bumblebees around your yard try to plant more flowers in your yard and avoid using harmful pesticides which can harm bees and all the great work they do. The next time you see a bumblebee take a second and say thank you for all the hard work they do.

Why Do Bees Fly Against a Window?
It frequently happens early in the season, typically when new bumblebee queens have emerged and are looking for a suitable nest site.

A main reason is that generally, some bumblebees are attracted to shade when looking for a place to nest. They will seek out crevices and holes that look as though they may provide shelter. Looking from the outside in, what the bees see is a dark area worth exploring without realizing there’s a pane of glass in the way.

If you discover bees on the ground nearby, chances are it’s exhaustion over a nasty bump – mix up a little sugar water or pop a blob of honey nearby and she’ll get her energy back and be on her way after 5-10 minutes.

Why Can’t We See Glass?
We can see through glass because light passes through it. Our eyes only see objects like chairs, your computer, or even tinted glass by processing light waves reflected off the object or absorbed by it.

To understand this on the atomic level, imagine electrons whizzing around in clearly defined paths, like cars on a racetrack. The racetracks are called energy levels, and they determine whether the material will absorb light. “Light is a photon and it has energy,” says Carlo Pantano, professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State University. When the energy level of the electron is similar to the energy of the light, the electron absorbs the light. “That energy gets converted to heat,” Pantano says. “That’s why black things get hot.” Electrons in a molecule of wood are at the right energy level to absorb light, but the electrons in a glass molecule are not and the light passes through the atom.

Reflection, Absorption, Transmission
All light travels in a straight line unless something gets in the way. When light hits an object, it is reflected, absorbed, and/or transmitted.

Reflection: The object can reflect or bounce the light (like a mirror).
Absorption: The object can absorb the light and the object gets warmer (like a black shirt).
Transmission: The object can let the light pass through (like a window).
A combination of these things can happen. When you look through a foggy window, some light is being transmitted and some light is being reflected.

You will need: flashlight, materials listed in the table below

  1. Predict whether light will be absorbed, reflected, or transmitted for the items listed in the table below.
  2. Use the flashlight to test your hypothesis.
  3. Can you find other materials to test?

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