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I noticed on TikTok the other day that a content creator was telling a joke about bees. He said ‘Why do bees have sticky hair? Because they use a honey comb!’ Ba dum bum, tshh!
Pretty lame, right? But while bees don’t actually coat their hair in anything as such, that hair is still sticky; just not in the way you might think.
The stickiness actually comes from electricity and allows pollen to stick to the bee so that it can transport it back to the hive.
And this isn’t the only thing that bees use their hair for; there’s a lot more to learn. So, let’s explore together and find out more about why bees have sticky hair and what it’s used for.
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Bee hair is electric! By this, I don’t mean that there’s a current running through them and you’ll get a shock if you touch one; the hairs actually have electromagnetic properties. The reason for this is that the bee needs a way to carry pollen and with these forces, the pollen will stick to the bee.
It’s almost like a very gentle glue but without any physical stickiness. But how does this work? Let’s take a look at the science behind it.
When two items have similar excess electric charges, they will repel one another. Think about holding two magnets together at the same end and how you can’t get them to join because there’s a repelling force. On the other hand, where this excess charge is opposite i.e one positive and one negative, the items attract one another. Think about those magnets again, only this time, they’ll join together no matter how much you try to keep them apart.
There are electric fields around everything and it’s thought that bees are able to detect these around flowering plants. Scientists know that bees have a positive charge while pollen has a negative charge. Bees will typically fly to negatively charged plants using their intuition and therefore, the pollen sticks to them with very little effort from the bee.
While I think that’s very cool, it did lead me to explore how bees were even able to create this positive charge in the first place. I found out that it’s to do with the airflow surrounding the hair as the bee looks for food. This airflow creates a positive charge while the bee is just going about its business. So again, there’s very little effort on the bee’s part.
If all of that wasn’t enough, it might interest you to learn that bees’ hairs are also branched. This is another feature that makes it easier for them to collect and carry pollen as they’re flying about.
When the bee lands on its chosen flower, the branched hairs come into contact with the pollen and pick them up. There are, of course, other ways that bees will gather pollen but these branched hairs are the method that they’ll use the most.
If you thought that collecting pollen using their electrically charged hair was amazing, wait until you learn that bees have many other uses for their hair. These are such amazingly well-adapted creatures with several uses for many body parts including their legs. Here are some of the other ways that bees benefit from their hairy bodies.
- Bees use their hair to get information on the flow of the wind. When the bee flies around looking for food and pollen, this feature comes in useful for finding flowers.
- Bees use chemical signals to communicate and the hairs on their bodies allow them to pick up on these cues. This is important because it will prevent the bee from entering into the territory of a neighboring hive.
- The hairs that cover a bee’s body allow the creature to sense vibrations. This is a defense mechanism that allows them to sense danger as it approaches. On top of this, feeling these vibrations allows the bee to feel as they look for pollen.
- Bees are not typically active during the winter but when temperatures start to drop at the end of summer, having all those little hairs helps to keep the bee warm. In the hive, they’ll create a huddle to make the most of all those little hair bodies. That said, it’s worth noting that some bees aren’t hairy enough to just rely on this as a way of staying warm so they have to combine the hair with other things.
We’ve learned that bees have hairs all over their bodies but what about inside their mouths? Well, the answer is that they do have hairy tongues and while this might seem like a pretty strange place to have hair, it’s very important for bees and without them, they’d struggle to survive.
These hairs are used when the bee is feeding. Bees eat nectar and when they do this, their tongues are released out of the mouth and into the nectar source. The hairs on their tongue are used to create something not all that dissimilar from a straw which the bee then uses to suck up whatever nectar they need.
If you’ve ever touched a bee then you’ll have noticed that its body is covered in little hairs. A lot of people will tell you that these hairs are sticky but they’re not sticky in the same way as glue. Instead, bees are electromagnetically charged in the opposite way to pollen so the substance is able to stick to the hairs.
But this isn’t the only thing that bees use hairs for. They also use them to keep warm and to sense danger. So, if you have ever wondered why bees have sticky hair, now you know!