Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains, the male sex cells of a flower, from the anther where they are produced to the receptive surface, or stigma, of the female organ of a flower. Since the honey bee is the most important insect that transfers pollen between flowers and between plants, the word "pollination" is often used to describe the service of providing bees to pollinate crop plants. This service is now more important than ever in the Midwest because the acreage of insectpollinated crops is large as compared with the number of all kinds of bees (honey bees, humble bees, and solitary bees) that are available to provide pollination.

In many states the estimated number of colonies (hives) of bees has dropped drastically in recent years. For example, in Illinois the estimated number of hives dropped from 101,000 in 1964 to 46,000 in 1984. These two figures are probably much more accurate than some of the older, larger estimates that may have reflected state pride more than reality. Because of the reduction in numbers of bees, growers in any state can no longer assume that there are sufficient numbers of bees nearby to produce the best possible crop from insectpollinated plants.

Honey bees are good pollinators for many reasons. Their hairy bodies trap pollen and carry it between flowers. The bees require large quantities of nectar and pollen to rear their young, and they visit flowers regularly in large numbers to obtain these foods. In doing so, they concentrate on one species of plant at a time and serve as good pollinators for this reason. Their body size enables them to pollinate flowers of many different shapes and sizes. The pollination potential of the bees is increased because they can be managed to develop high populations. The number of colonies can also be increased as needed and the colonies can be moved to the most desirable location for pollination purposes.

Honey bees are most active at temperatures between 60 degrees F. (16 degrees C.) and 105 degrees F. (41 degrees C.). Winds above 15 miles per hour reduce their activity and stop it completely at about 25 miles per hour. When conditions for flight are not ideal, honey bees work close to their colonies. Although they may fly as far as 5 miles in search of food, they usually go no farther than 1 to 1-1/2 miles in good weather. In unfavorable weather, bees may visit only those plants nearest the hive. They also tend to work closer to the hive in areas where there are large numbers of attractive plants in bloom.