By Donald Waxman
SAO PAULO — The buzz was deafening in Bolivar Stadium Saturday evening as American Bees stung German Bees 3-1 in the opening match of the Pollinator Cup. The victory was especially honey-sweet for the Americans, considering they had lost their last 416 pollen-ball matches against the Germans.
“It’s inconceivable that we beat this team,” said U.S. coach Freddy Bumble. “We could play them a thousand times and not win a single game—they’re infinitely better than we are. I actually bet against us and am now out $750, so the win is kind of depressing for me, financially and emotionally.”
Pollen-ball is not well understood outside the bee community. The object of the game is to kick or head a pollen grain onto the stigma of a flowering plant. The stigma is a tiny sticky platform at the top of the pistil, which is the plant’s female part. Pollen is a sticky powder produced by the stamen, the male part of the plant. Obviously, stickiness is a major element of the game.
To score, bees must gather a pollen grain from the stamen of one flower and transfer it (by kicking or heading) to the stigma of another flower. This is called cross-pollination. Many bees cheat by taking a pollen grain from one flower and attaching it to the stigma of the same flower. This is self-pollination, and it does not count as a goal in pollen-ball.
Bees are not allowed to touch the pollen grain with their wings. If such an infraction does occur, the referee calls “wings!” and the opposing team gets a penalty kick. The pollen ball is then placed ten inches from a stigma guarded by the other team’s goalie. At such close range, a star kicker usually drills the pollen grain past the goalie and onto the stigma.
Pandemonium ensues, with excessive honey sipping often leading to random stinging and hive looting.