The buzz of a bumblebee is more than the sum of its sounds – it’s actually the insect showing off its very helpful superpower. Sonication, or “buzz pollination”, allows the bumblebee to gather pollen deep inside the anthers of flowers, where other bees can’t get to.
This is how it works: when bumblebees hover over flowers, explains Denise Ellsworth, an entomologist at Ohio State University (video above), they “unhinge their wings from their wing muscles and vibrate their bodies” with forces up to 30 Gs. And you hear a sharp buzz. This technique is especially useful when the bumblebee cannot reach the pollen with its legs or tongue.
In effect, the pollen falls from the flower and gets stuck to the bee’s body. It then goes from one flower to another, carrying the pollen grains around on its frizzy body. Only a few other wild bees are able to carry out this delicate task.
Ellsworth observed that they buzz in the tone of a musical note – middle-octave C. “It’s the “hey” in The Beatles’ Hey Jude, and it causes the flower to explode with pollen, he explained. The buzz of the bee has also been compared to a vibrating tuning fork.
Bumblebees possess other talents, too. Another recent study found that they are intelligent enough to taught to play football. In the experiment, they happily pushed balls into a goal for sweet rewards, which revealed how they map their journey in search of nectar.