Pollinators: "Bee's 'Tongue'"

Here is the first of the six paintings completed under a grant from the Haines & Friends Fund 2015 Artist Grants.

Bee's 'Tongue' © 2016

The bee’s mouth is a complex organ made up of various parts that allow it to both bite and suck.  To bite, the bee uses its strong mandibles. To suck liquids, it uses its proboscis, the long organ that looks like a tongue but is made of several part that form an air-tight straw.  The flexible tongue itself is covered with a huge number of long hairs. 

The bee in this picture is feasting on the nectar of a raspberry flower.  The white stalks in the center are the stigmas, and each one sits on a swollen base inside of which is an immature seed.  Surrounding all the stigmas is a ring of stamens—slender stalks carrying pollen sacs filled with thousands of tiny pollen grains, each no bigger than a speck of dust.  When the pollen grains are released into the air, some of them will stick to the bee’s tongue, many to the hairs of its whole body. When the bee flies to the next raspberry flower, some of the pollen grains will fall on the moist open tops of its stigmas and begin the process of fertilizing the seeds that wait at the base. Eventually there will be a ripe juicy raspberry for another animal to feast on.     

Colletes willistoni bees range from 8 to 9 millimeters in length.  The average size of a pollen grain is 20-80 thousandths of a millimeter! So the bee is roughly a hundred times longer than a pollen grain. If you were were 100 times the size of an 3-inch diameter apple, you would be 25 feet tall!