Wednesday 15 July 2015

Bees spotted collecting pollen from grass!

Bumblebee (possibly Bombus lucorum
 group), Whitemead, Forest of Dean
27/6/2015. Image: T.C.G. Rich
It's national Pollinator Awareness Week, so here is a bee-related post from BSBI botanist Dr Tim Rich:

"Woken early whilst camping, I sat drinking tea in the quiet of the early morning sunshine. Except it wasn’t quiet, a few bees were buzzing in the unmown grassy strip by the tent. 

"Looking closer, I was very surprised to see the bees were collecting pollen from a grass! Everyone knows grasses are not designed for pollination by bees; they are pollinated by the wind. 

"For about an hour we watched as the bees came and went, systematically visiting meadow foxtail heads. 

"Grasses produce no nectar so presumably the bees were simply after the nutrient-rich pollen for their young. Not many bees, but at least three individuals of a bumblebee and two honeybees were collecting pollen. 

Honeybee Apis mellifera on
Meadow foxtail Alopecurus pratensis,
 Whitemead, Forest of Dean
27/6/2015. Image: T.C.G. Rich
"They selected grass heads with lots of fresh yellow or purple anthers and combed the pale yellow pollen into the pollen sacs on their legs. As they landed on the meadow foxtail heads, the delicate stalks bent over with the extra weight of the bee. 

"They ignored us whilst we tried to take pictures, and also ignored the few buttercups present and other grasses. 

"Grass anthers open in early morning and shed pollen quickly as they dry out, so the bees stopped coming mid morning when the remaining pollen had blown away. 

"Were the bees visiting grasses to collect pollen because they were so desperate for food now that so few flowers are left in the countryside, or have they been doing it for years? 

"Only further observation will tell, but this was no random, one-off event. Two different bee species were taking advantage of an abundant pollen source. There were a few other wild flowers present such as buttercup, bramble, hogweed and elder but none were abundant. 

Unmown grassy strip by tent with few flowers.
Image: T.C.G. Rich
"There are a few reports of bees visiting grasses in the literature and on the internet, but mostly in the tropics, usually of grasses with dense heads with lots of anthers like meadow foxtail which the bees can visit easily. 

"Honey has often been reported to have grass pollen in, but it was usually regarded as incidental but now it may not be".

Further information and images from:
Dr Tim Rich
57 Aberdulais Road, Cardiff C F14 2PH



  1. I saw a white-tailed bumble bee, presumably Bombus sp., on flowers of Agrostis capillaris, in my garden on 15/07/2021. Its mouthparts appeared to be busy on a flower, but I cannot be sure whether it was collecting pollen. There have been quite a few bumble bees in my garden this year, all apparently the same sp. -- Roger West, 26 Swanston View Edinburgh EH10 7DQ

  2. Earlier this year (20th May 2024) I filmed a small bumble bee visiting multiple flowers of Briza maxima growing in my garden. The bee was deliberately visiting the flowers, presumably in search of pollen. Louise Hill, Doncaster (VC63 Recorder).


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