With honeybee colony health wavering and researchers trying to find technological ways of pollinating plants in the future, a new Georgia Tech study has looked at how the insects do their job and manage to stay clean. According to the study, a honeybee can carry up to 30 percent of its body weight in pollen because of the strategic spacing of its nearly three million hairs. The hairs cover the insect’s eyes and entire body in various densities that allow efficient cleaning and transport. “Without these hairs and their specialized spacing, it would be almost impossible for a honeybee to stay clean,” said Guillermo Amador, who led the study while pursuing his doctoral degree at Georgia Tech in mechanical engineering. This was evident when Amador and the team created a robotic honeybee leg to swipe pollen-covered eyes. When they covered the leg with wax, the smooth, hairless leg gathered four times less pollen.
“If we can start learning from natural pollinators, maybe we can create artificial pollinators to take stress off of bees,” said David Hu, a professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “Our findings may also be used to create mechanical designs that help keep micro and nanostructured surfaces clean.” The study, “Honeybee hairs and pollenkitt are essential for pollen capture and removal,” is published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.