What is nectar?
Nectar – nectar is loaded with sugars and is a bee’s main source of energy.
What is pollen?
Pollen – pollen provides a balanced diet of proteins and fats.
Bees forage for both nectar and pollen from plants and flowers. Dry pollen, is a food source for bees, which contains 16 – 30% protein, 1 – 10% fat, 1 – 7% starch, many vitamins, but little sugar. Bees mix dry pollen with nectar and/or honey to compact the pollen in the pollen basket. The protein source needed for rearing one worker bee from larval to adult stage requires approximately 120 to 145 mg of pollen.
“An average bee colony will collect about 20 to 57 kg (44 to 125 pounds) of pollen a year.”
Pollen comes in different colours and you can see it either dusted on the bee, in the pollen sacs on the bees leg, or stored in the beeswax foundation along with honey and brood. Each plant produces a different pollen colour and because honeybees collect pollen from only one source at a time it is easy to see the colours. The bee adds a tiny amount of nectar to the pollen as it collects it which makes the pollen stay on the bee’s pollen basket or sac, which is in fact on just one strand on each rear leg. However, bumblebees’ pollen sacs don’t have similar colours, because they gather pollen from a variety of plants so the colours are mixed up.
Here is a link to a pocket pollen colour guide that will help with your identification.
Why do pollinators collect pollen?
“So why do bees collect pollen? It is a source of protein, fat, starch and vitamins and fed to bee larvae along with honey and a little of what is called queen jelly, a secretion from the glands in the heads of worker bees.”
The nectar is the bees source of energy while the pollen is consumed because it is a source of protein and other nutrients and is feed to growing larvae. In the process of collecting pollen and nectar they inadvertently fertilise flowers, trees, and plants (read more).
Plants can attract pollinators through scent (e.g. moths find flowers at night using the smell) or colours (bees are more attracted to some colours e.g. blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow). Some bees also have a special connection with certain flowers. These bees are called oligolectic and it means that you will see the females gather pollen only on a few species of plants. For more information on the different types of bees and what plants they like click here.