What is a pollen basket?

What is a pollen basket?

A bee has a pollen basket. But not all bees have a pollen basket. 

The worker bees are the only bees that gather pollen and nectar from plants, and they have a pollen basket. Worker bees are female bees, except the queen bee. 

Pollen-collecting is called foraging. Pollen is collected on the worker bee’s back legs in a pollen basket. 

The pollen basket is called the corbicula. It is a cavity surrounded by hairs, and the worker bee puts the pollen into the basket. The worker bee has a corbicula on each hind (back) leg, which means that it has two corbiculae (plural). The corbicula is on the tibia part of the hind leg. 

When a bee collects pollen, the pollen sticks all over the bee’s hairy body, even its head. So, the worker bee transfers (brushes) the pollen onto its hind legs by combing, pressing, and compacting the yellow pollen particles. Pollen is also known as bee bread.

There are four tribes of bees in the Apidae family: the honey bee (or honeybee), the bumblebee, the stingless bee, and the orchid bee. The female worker bees in these tribes have a pollen basket – the corbicula. 

Other bees have a scopa, or scopae (plural) instead of the corbicula. Scopa means broom. The scopa is similar in function to the corbicula, but instead of a basket, it is a mass of branched hairs. The bee presses the pollen from the flowers onto the hairs where it sticks in a clump.

The bees that have the scopa, instead of a corbicula, include solitary bees such as the mason bee, the leafcutter bee, the carder bee, the resin bee, and the cuckoo bee. 

People can eat bee pollen as a dietary supplement that is sold in stores. It is not the same as honey. However, honey produced by bees contains pollen. Only honey bees make honey.  

Location of photographs: Paris, France

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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