Friday, 14 July 2017

Summer pollen colours

There is still plenty of pollen being brought into the hives but the colours have changed because of the different flowers now in bloom.  In the spring most pollen was yellow or orange but we now have a more subtle colour palette.  Grey pollen has been coming in from blackberry.

Last week I was intrigued by this chocolate brown

and coffee brown.

Having looked them up I think it is likely that both are from clover.  Some of the brown is flecked with yellow but looking closely the yellow seems to be bits of stamen from the flowers.

This blue is probably from rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium).

This blue is darker with a sparkly appearance.  I'm not sure where it comes from, possibly also willowherb.  I wonder if it might be great hairy willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) but can't find any reference to its pollen colour.

Apple green is from meadowsweet.

There is still some yellow pollen coming in.

I am not sure about the source of the white.  Himalayan balsam pollen is white but even though they get covered in it the bees don't seem to collect it - they just go for the nectar.

Unlike bumblebees, honey bees usually collect only one pollen at a time so the pellets in their pollen baskets are all of one colour.  Here is a rare exception from this morning.  This bee changed from blue to yellow mid foraging trip.

It is fascinating that the bees also go to the trouble of keeping pollen from different flowers stored separately. There must be a reason for it.

Although pollen from many flowers is orange or yellow, it comes in every colour in the spectrum plus black, white, grey and brown.  Pollen from different sources is sometimes put in the same cell, presumably when one source runs out before a cell is full.

It is also interesting that pollen cells are never filled to the brim, unlike nectar and honey cells.  I guess it is so the pollen doesn't fall out and the bees have room to work with it.

I have watched returning bees with pollen loads walking backwards and forwards over a comb, sniffing all the cells containing pollen until selecting the right one.  

The bee scrapes off the pollen into the cell herself, using her to back legs, rather in the manner in which I take off my wellies.  Unfortunately the process doesn't show up on a photo but here she is just before and just after.

Honey bees probably collect lots of different pollens because the nutritional content of the pollen varies.  A wide variety provides them with a healthy diet and offers all the amino acids, trace elements and micronutrients they need.


  1. Fantastic set of pictures Chris and some useful info - Thanks

  2. I wonder if they store their pollens separately, as we store our veg and salad in separate pots or bags, then they can choose what is the most suitable pollen mixture for each individual larva. Bees as nutritionists? Sue.

    1. I think it must be like cheese in a cheese shop Sue. It's all cheese but the different varieties are important.

  3. Educational as always Chris, thank you, and superb photography. I've got some really lovely tangerine orange pollen coming in at the mo and I'm told it is Lime?
    Thanks, Ray

    1. I looked it up Ray and orange could be lime (if you see what I mean). I am not an expert but I use the various charts to learn about the pollen colours. The unusual colours are easier. Yellow and orange are more difficult.