Pollen Trap Inventory at the Bee Center

Pollen Inventory Banner

Pollen is the major protein source bees use to raise their young. When plants are in bloom, bees are busy collecting pollen to bring back to the hive for the thousands of larvae that need this pollen to develop into adults. However, what pollen they bring back depends on what is available on the landscape (and what they actually like) which will change throughout the spring, summer and fall. Here at the bee center we want to track these changes to see what our bees are collecting from and how that changes on a weekly basis (weather permitting). I will post a picture of the pollen and relay temperature conditions and the weight of pollen collected within a 24 hour period.

Now I still have not progressed on my pollen ID skills so most of my guesses at plant sources will be based on pollen color (if I make a guess at all) and from folks who know much more about the local plants. There are several guides available for ID-ing pollen by color (http://metrobeekeepers.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/PollenColorChart-Sheet1.pdf, http://www.wasatchbeekeepers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/North-Bends-Pollen-Chart.pdf, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pollen_sources to name a few). See the Palynology report and my attempt at identifying pollen in honey.

Pollen Chart


Well the weather this March has been as crazy as a March hare! We’ve seen temps in the upper 70s and even 80°F and within the next week we’ve had below freezing temperatures and snow. It’s been a wild time keeping bees and since the bees were bringing in so much pollen in February, a lot of folks were doing splits early this month. Unfortunately, this was right before we had some extensively cool temperatures so time will tell if those queens actually got a chance to mate.

March Pollen Inventory

At the end of the month we saw a clear transition away from the beige-y greenish pollen colors and are now getting into some very golden yellow pollen. My guess is this is a transition from maple to …some other plant or plants.

In Halifax county and coastal regions I was amazed by the carpet of henbit (dead nettle). I drove out to Onslow county and drove past purple fields of henbit and even stopped to look for any bee activity. Now when I stopped, I didn’t see much of any activity, in fact any time I’ve seen henbit I’ve never seen any bees on it. So of course I told Neil R. this and within a week he was sending me pictures of bees foraging on it and the bright red pollen packed away in the frames.

Pollinator Field

March Pollen

We haven’t gotten any henbit in the RTP pollen traps and I think we are going to have to start putting out pollen traps in other regions to start capturing these regional differences.


With temperatures breaking into the 50s and 60s (finally!) we have seen buds and blooms surfacing across the region and we’ve certainly seen the foragers capitalizing on this! On Tuesday February 6th we set out a pollen trap for a day to take a closer look at what the bees are getting off the landscape. So here at the bee center we collected 29 g of pollen from returning foragers over the course of the day. As you can see, there are maybe two different colors present, one just slighly greener than the other. The pollen color charts and bloom observations point to maple as one but they are so similar in color it is hard to tell what else it might be.

Pollen Inventory 2 Pollen Inventory 3

Maples bloomed at this same time last year although the picture above was taken farther into the bloom on the first of March.

I’ve started thinking more about pollen, partly because I was elbow deep in gallon bags of pollen from one of the bee studies that trapped incoming pollen. They collected the pollen loads from the traps several times from the end of July until the first week in September. I was combining all these bags to have a stock of pollen for feeding bumble bees but I was amazed about the week to week variation in colors. Some days were almost all a burnt orange color, other days were a pale yellow, and some days were a total mix as you can see below.

When looking at the bee center pollen from February 6th, and the pollen collected at the end of the year, you can see below how drastically different they are-not surprising but still visually striking.

Bee Care Center Pollen Inventory

Now after four weeks of pollen trapping, you see quite the difference already in both color and quantity of incoming pollen! On February 21 they were bringing in almost 10 times as much pollen as they were on February 6th and a new tan-ish pollen was dominating the mix instead of the yellowish-greens we’ve seen the previous two weeks. I did a taste test and the tan/brown pollen was very sweet!

Three Pollens