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This Bee Gets Punched by Flowers For Your Ice Cream | Deep Look

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Channel: Deep Look
Categories: Cooking   |   Fine Arts   |   Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science  
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Alfalfa leafcutting bees are way better at pollinating alfalfa flowers than honeybees. They dont mind getting thwacked in the face by the spring-loaded blooms. And that's good, because hungry cows depend on their hard work to make milk.

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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.


Sure, cows are important. But next time you eat ice cream, thank a bee.

Every summer, alfalfa leafcutting bees pollinate alfalfa in an intricate process that gets them thwacked by the flowers when they release the pollen that allows the plants to make seeds. The bees hard work came to fruition last week when growers in California finished harvesting the alfalfa seeds that will be grown to make nutritious hay for dairy cows.

This is how it works.

To produce alfalfa seeds, farmers let their plants grow until they bloom. They need help pollinating the tiny purple flowers, so that the female and male parts of the flower can come together and produce fertile seeds. Thats where the grayish, easygoing alfalfa leafcutting bees come in. Seed growers in California release the bees known simply as cutters in June and they work hard for a month.

Alfalfas flowers keep their reproductive organs hidden away inside a boat-shaped bottom petal called the keel petal, which is held closed by a thin membrane that creates a spring mechanism.

Cutter bees come up to the flower looking for nectar and pollen to feed on. When they land on the flower, the membrane holding the keel petal breaks and the long reproductive structure pops right up and smacks the upper petal or the bee, releasing its yellow pollen. This process is called tripping the flower.

When the flower is tripped, pollen falls on its female reproductive organ and fertilizes it; bees also carry pollen away on their hairy bodies and help fertilize other flowers. In a few weeks, each flower turns into a curly pod with seven to 10 seeds growing inside.

Cutters trip 80 percent of flowers they visit, compared to honeybees, which only trip about 10 percent.

--- What kind of a plant is alfalfa?
Alfalfa is a legume, like beans and chickpeas. Other legumes also hold their reproductive organs within a keel petal.

--- What do bees use leaves for?
Alfalfa leafcutting bees and other leafcutter bees cut leaf and petal pieces to build their nest inside a hole, such as a nook and cranny in a log. Alfalfa farmers provide bees with holes in styrofoam boards.

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Congratulations to the following fans for correctly identifying the bee body part coated in pollen, on our Leafcutting Bee - the scopa or scopae!

Galatians 4:16
Edison Lewis

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