Bumblebees can pollinate anything that honeybees can and more.
The pollen of most flowers is found on the outside of the anther, and can easily be collected by a bee as it scrambles over the flower. However, in some flowers (like tomatoes
) the pollen is held inside pollen tubes that prevent its straightforward collection. Honeybees are unable to efficiently collect pollen from these types of flowers, which require a “buzz pollinator”, like a bumblebee to shake the pollen free.
They extract the pollen by buzzing
A bumblebee grabs hold of the flower and vigorously shakes its body, using its powerful flight muscles (but not its wings). This causes the pollen to be released, sometimes in a visible cloud, and enables the bee to collect it for its young, and to pollinate self-fertile flowers or the next flowers it visits. Buzz pollination, or sonication as it is also known, is a vital process for high quality production of crops such as tomatoes
, raspberries and blueberries
, and has benefits in many other crops too. Prior to the domestication of bumblebees, people used hormone sprays or mechanical devices to rapidly vibrate greenhouse tomato flowers, both of which are actually less effective than a bumblebee and cost the grower significantly more in labour. The use of mechanical devices is still the most common form of greenhouse tomato pollination in countries without bumblebees, such as Australia.