Looking at Pollen Up Close

Recently, senior Biology major Kellen Paine has started on a new project for the museum, on honeybees and pollen. Using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), he can look at pollen grains collected from the legs of honeybees. Pollens from different flowers have distinct structures under magnification, and some experts can even identify the flower the pollen came from by looking at the structure. Kellen’s goal is to take pictures of the SEM pollen images and pair them with pictures of the flowers and bees the pollen came from to create an exhibit for the museum.

Kellen will collect bees from Earlham’s back campus woods. He’ll look for bees with pollen stuck to the scopea (tufts of dense hair) of their back legs. Honeybees collect nectar as well as pollen from the flowers they visit, which they then mix with digestive enzymes to create honey. The honey is stored as food for the winter. Honeybees are one of the few perennial bee species; the bee colonies survive from year to year until the queen dies, instead of regenerating with new bees every year.

Here are a few of the images Kellen has collected so far:

Some images from a bee in the museum collection.

Honeybees are not a native species in North America, so other bee species struggle to survive when honeybees colonize an area. Many bee species are in decline, though, including honeybees. Kellen talked about a recent study that showed the effects of insecticides on bee populations. You can read a report on it here. He also mentioned how farmers use honeybees to pollinate crops, stressing the bees and, when bees must be transported, spreading diseases and parasites.

A bee decline story was what originally interested Kellen in studying bees. Bombus Pensylvanicus, a species of bumblebee, used to be found almost everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. The bee hasn’t been seen in Indiana since 2002, and Kellen says they are now mostly found in the Texas area. He considered studying the differences in diet (pollen types) between declining species of bees and more stable populations. This potential research idea led to the educational project for the museum.

Keep an eye out in the coming months for this exciting new addition to the museum!

Categories: Collections, Exhibits | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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