What sets apart Australian blue-banded bees from their North American bumblebee counterparts? The answer involves hardcore heavy metal headbanging, as a new study revealed.
With the aid of tomato plants, an international team of experts examined how Aussie blue-banded bees and North American bumblebees differed in their pollination techniques.
Bees in North America opt to use their front appendages or their mandibles to shake and grab the pollen out of the anther of flowers.
Native Aussie blue-banded bees apparently take a much rougher approach.
In a first of its kind, experts recorded the Aussie blue-banded bee as it headbanged flowers at a rate of 350 times per second — a speed that would surely put metal fans to shame.
The headbanging was so rapid that the team had to create a slow-motion video to better see the movement.
Researchers said the Aussie bees' hardcore approach shakes off more pollen from the flower into the air, in a similar way that a salt-and-pepper shaker releases its contents.
By capturing the acoustic frequency and duration of the bees' buzz, researchers were able to see that the blue-banded bee shakes the flower at a greater frequency than bumblebees.
The blue-banded bees' vibration also makes pollination more efficient, enabling them to spend fewer time on each flower while collecting more pollen, researchers said.
"We were absolutely surprised. We were so buried in the science of it, we never thought about something like this," said Dr. Sridhar Ravi, lead researcher of the study.
How The Discovery Shapes The World
Australia currently lacks tomato-plant pollinators like the bumblebee. Instead, tomato-plant pollination takes place mechanically.
Bee specialist Katja Hogendoorn said previous studies showed that Aussie bees are actually successful in pollinating greenhouse tomatoes. The new study proves these native bees could be more efficient in pollination, and they could even help the country and the world.
Aside from that, the team believes the discovery could contribute to advancements in different fields such as improving the efficacy of crop pollination, understanding muscular stress and the development of miniature aerial robots.
The study was conducted by researchers from RMIT University, Harvard University, University of California, and the University of Adelaide. The team's findings are featured in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions.
Watch the Aussie blue-banded bee as it headbangs a flower in the video below.