Bees are known for having a huge interest in flowers, but they don’t eat flowers, that would be silly. But what exactly do they eat then?
Bees’ main food diet consists of honey and pollen or also called bee bread. However they also like to consume nectar, sugar water, honeydew and ripe fruits if bee bread isn’t present to them.
The table given below depicts the source of primary food elements of bees and the caste of collecting bees.
|No.:||Food Element||Resource||Which bee collects it||Purpose|
|1||Nectar||Nectaries at base of stamens.||Nectar foragers.||To provide carbohydrates to the colony.|
|2||Pollen||Anthers of flowers.||Pollen foragers.||Fulfill the protein requirements of the colony.|
|3||Water||Nearest water source to the colony.||All foragers||Evaporative cooling. To control the humidity of the colony. To dilute stored and crystallized food.|
Here the notable thing is pollen-collecting bees & nectar-collecting bees are different. The reason behind this is the process of storing pollen and nectar is different.
What do Queen Bees eat?
A queen bee eats upon royal jelly throughout her whole life. The queen does not eat worker jelly nor bee bread. Royal jelly is the secretion of the hypopharyngeal glands of the nurse bees. It is the perfect blend of all the necessary nutrients required by the queen.
The purpose of the queen is to lay eggs. To do that, she needs properly functioning ovaries.
For decades researchers believed that it is the intake of royal jelly that makes a bee queen. People thought that royal jelly provides the queen bee proper nutrition for the development of ovaries. However, research conducted in 2015 by the Department of Entomology, University of Illinois, proved that the case is the opposite.
All bees have the same genes. However, it is the expression of genes that makes a bee queen or worker. According to the study, honey, pollen, and bee bread contain different types of flavonoids. p-coumaric acid is a flavonoid present in the nectar and pollen of all flowers. Thus, honey and bee bread also have it.
p-coumaric acid suppresses the genes responsible for the development of ovaries. Therefore, worker bees that feed upon honey, beebread, and nectar have undeveloped ovaries.
On the other hand, royal jelly not only suppresses the effect of p-coumaric acid it also triggers the development of ovaries in the queen bee. We can say that it is not what a bee eats that makes her queen, but what she does not eat.
Who Gathers the Food For the Beehive?
Worker bees gather food for the beehive. A bee can collect both nectar and pollen. However, they only carry one thing at a time. The food-collecting worker bees are called foragers.
When it comes to organization, bees are next to humans. Every bee in the colony is assigned specific tasks to facilitate the functioning of the hive. Therefore, a nectar collector collects nectar only, and a pollen collector carries pollen.
The body of the bee has specific structures to carry both pollen and nectar separately. Bees carry water & nectar in Crop and pollen in the corbicula (pollen basket).
What do Bees Eat for Each Season?
Bees generally feel only two types of season summers and winters. Spring and autumn for them are before summer and before winter.
What do Bees Eat in the Summer?
During summers and spring, they have plenty of pollen and nectar sources, thus they relish them. But during winters and autumn, they have a lack of fresh food sources. So to fulfill their need their primary approach is toward stored food i.e. honey and beebread.
What do Bees Eat in the Winter?
Bees are very smart organisms. And they have learned over time that during winters they won’t be having as many flowers as summer and spring. So they keep the reservoirs of the colony full of honey and beebread. They also keep on catching alternate sources of carbohydrates like honeydew and fruits. Still, some bee colonies struggle to exist during winter. Thus professional beekeepers prefer giving them artificial feeds to eliminate stress in the colony.
Best Honey Bee food:
The lack of food can trigger stress in the colony and can also lead to robbery. The stress is highest in winters and the rainy season.
Therefore, beekeepers have figured out some great feed to help bees during the period of lack. But while planning the feed for bees, beekeepers need to plan it according to both pollen and nectar.
Whenever anyone is thinking of feeding bees, there are two options food supplements and substitutes. Supplements are natural replacements of their food whereas substitutes are artificial feed prepared to mimic the nature bee food. According to experts, all beekeepers should try to feed bees with supplements instead of substitutes as they are natural and easy to take for bees.
In the tables given below, we have discussed both sugar and protein feeds for bees.
Sugar Supplements for Bees
|Honey||83% sugar solids, already processed for storage.||Can spread disease & incite robbing.|
|Sucrose||Most common form found in most nectars.||Needs to be inverted, hard to store in liquid form.|
|Fructose (HFCS)||Less prone to spoilage, various forms of sugar concentration.||Overheating produces HMF, prone to crystallization.|
|Pro-sweet 77||Mix of sucrose, fructose & glucose.||Costly.|
|Molasses||None!||Can make bees sick.|
Protein Supplements for Bees
|Pollen Supplements||Pollen substitutes|
|Contains real pollen (harvested beebread)||Non-pollen sources of protein (e.g. soy flour, brewer’s yeast, etc…)|
|Pros: It is real bee diet.||Pros: It is cheaper and can also provide additional nutrients.|
|Cons: Can induce diseases.||Cons: Bees are short-lived and have less immunity.|
What do Bees Drink, do they Need Water?
Like every other organism on the planet, bees drink water. The very basic need for water is to facilitate digestion and metabolism. Apart from this, water is essential for the following functions:
- Thermoregulation of the Hive: Bees continuously flap their wings to evaporate moisture from nectar to make honey. Moreover, the constant activities of bees generate a lot of heat in the nest. It is essential to keep the temperature around 95° F because if the temperature exceeds, the brood will die. Therefore bees use the evaporative cooling technique to cool down the nest. Bees fan the water so that it evaporates, and when water evaporates, it also takes away heat.
- Stored food utilization: Bees use honey in the scarcity of nectar. It is much richer in glucose than nectar. Therefore it crystallizes, which makes it difficult for bees to take it as it is. So bees use water to dilute honey.
- Baby Food: The brood requires a water-rich diet to develop. The first diet that larvae take has a water content of up to 80%. The bee larvae cannot digest the bee food as it is due to underdeveloped organs.
Do Bees Need Clean Water or Stagnant Water?
Bees tend to collect water from the nearest source. All the needs of bees are interconnected. However, water is the most important. If a bee colony faces a lack of water, it commands all its foragers to quit forging and collect water.
Hence, it is crucial to provide your bees with a freshwater source. The right water source for bees will be:
- A place for bees to stand and easily fly of
However, scientists have noticed a peculiar behavior of bees when it comes to water. Bees that can fly up to six miles to get nectar and pollen never try to find a source of freshwater. Instead, bees often collect water from many undesirable sources like rainwater gutters.
According to research conducted by the University of California, dirty water is nutritious for bees.
The researcher performed an analysis of water sources like a drain choked with decaying matter on the puddles that form on the top of cow dung and sewage effluent. They found that the water from these sources is very rich in nutrients. The organic matter added by the decaying matter makes it perfect for bees. Also, bees prefer water that is rich in sodium chloride. Bees use the sense of smell for detecting mineral-rich water.
What do Bees Eat in the Winter?
Honeybees opt for natural substitutes of pollen and nectar during winters.
Bees are the only organism on the earth after humans that prepare more food than they require. Honey and beebread work as a food reserve for bees. Honeybees feed on this stored food during winter.
However, even one of the most hardworking organisms on the planet has to face inadequacy of resources due to weather. But bees have discovered natural supplements for their main food elements.
Bees turn their way to ripe fruits and honeydew for the replacement of nectar in the period of scarcity.
|1||Nectar||Honeydew, Ripe fruits & Honey.|
Sweet ripe fruits and honeydew are as rich in carbohydrates as nectar. Despite bees have sorted everything when it comes to food professional beekeepers often feed their bees with an artificial source such as sugar syrup or pollen patties.
If Bees eat Sugar Water, do they need Vitamin Supplements?
Bees do need vitamins and minerals for a proper diet. The vitamin-B complex is essential for the development of bees. Bees need as vivid a diet as humans.
However, they do not need to take multiple sources to complete the individual need of every nutrient. Bees use nectar for carbohydrates and everything is driven from pollen.
Pollen is rich in lipids, vitamins, and nutrients. Thus the best option for a vitamin supplement for honey bees is pollen supplements.
Pollen Substitutes for bees:
- Dry Pollen Substitutes: It is made from soy powder or brewer’s yeast. Beekeepers prefer dry food for bees as they have more control over it. However, it is very common for bees to ignore dry food.
- Pollen patties: It is a mixture of pollen substitutes, sugars, and water shaped in a particular shape. They are easy to store and ensure that bees will get complete nutrition. But pollen patties can incite robbery in the hive.
Do Bees eat Fruit?
Bees do eat ripe fruits. However, they are the secondary food choice of the insect. Honeybees find their way to the fresh ripe fruits. They love apples, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and many more.
Bees are most attracted to fruits during a nectar dearth. Nectar is rich in a carbohydrate called sucrose. When honeybees consume nectar digest sucrose by breaking it into glucose and fructose. And bees use these two sugars as a source of energy.
Though bees face a shortage of nectar during winters, to compensate for the energy sugars bees rely on the stored honey. However, bees need a lot of energy during the dearth period and in winters because they generate heat to keep the hive warm by flapping their wings.
Therefore, bees start looking for alternative sources of carbohydrates. So, bees start feeding on fruits. Fruits are rich in fructose. It is the sugar that bees need. In addition to being a source of energy, bees don’t need to spend energy on the digestion of fructose, unlike sucrose.
However, fruits are not the only source of sugar for bees. Honeybees use honeydew as a supplement for nectar.
Honeydew is a liquid sap secreted by aphids and plant-eating insects. Plant sap is rich in sugars, but they have fewer proteins. However, insects need protein more than carbohydrates.
Therefore, aphids and insects egest the sugars. Hence, honeydew is a waste for insects. As it is rich in sugars bees use it as a supplement for nectar.
Honeydew is already a bi-product of digestion hence, it is easy to process for bees. Bees treat honeydew the same way they treat nectar. The moisture content of honeydew is less as compared to nectar. Therefore bees collect it during the early morning or late in the evening and process it just like nectar.
How do Bees take their Food to the Hive?
Forager bees have to take back the food they gathered to the hive for their sister nestmates that never leave the beehive. Bees have to carry pollen, nectar, and water. But they cannot take all the stuff at the same time. Therefore, one bee collects only one thing at a time, and all the food elements are processed separately.
- Water: The dietary source of bees pollen and nectar have almost negligible moisture. Therefore they have to collect it from a different source. All foragers can collect water. They swallow it and store it in their crop, a special compartment to carry water and nectar. Once the foragers reach the hive, they regurgitate it in the mouth of a fellow nestmate.
- Nectar: It is the primary source of carbohydrates for the colony. Without nectar, the bee colony will collapse because their energy needs will remain unsatisfied. Nectar carrier bees take up nectar in their crop and pass it to a receiver bee on reaching back to the colony. The receiver worker bee then store the nectar to process it to honey.
- Pollen: Pollen provides proteins to the entire bee colony. Proteins are vital for the development of the hypopharyngeal gland and the formation of royal jelly. Pollen collector bees load the pollens in the pollen basket on their hind legs. Once they reach their hive, they unload it by kicking.
Can Bees Make their Food?
Bees, like us humans, make their food. After the human race, these insects are the most organized species on this planet. They do not feed on plant materials as it is like with animals. Bees take raw materials from the plants such as nectar & pollen and make honey and beebread from it.
Moreover, they are capable of preparing baby food for the brood too. Bees have learned the way to preserve the food just as a human for the period of scarcity. They mix enzymes of their saliva to honey and pollen which triggers fermentation to increase the self-life of their reserved food.
Do Bees eat Meat?
Yes, but only a specific bee individual. A group of North American stingless bees eats upon the flesh of dead animals. These bees are called vulture bees.
There are three species in this group of bees:
- Trigona crassipes
- Trigona necrophaga
- Trigona hypogea
The vulture bees also called carrion bees were discovered in 1982 by Dr. David Roubik. They observed this tropical species of stingless bees in the lowland forest of eastern Panama.
Researchers found that these bees do not have any pollen baskets. They lost it in the process of evolution. It makes pollen collection impossible for them. And bees do not have access to any other protein source.
These bees started feeding on the carcasses of dead animals to get proteins. To make this process easy, they developed five large, pointed teeth on each mandible.
Many people confuse meat-eating bees with yellow jacket wasps, but this species of bee use animal flesh as a source of protein whereas wasps use it to make nests.
As we know protein is crucial for the brood, these stingless bees carry the meat in the same ways as other bees carry nectar. The stingless bees carry flesh to the nest and regurgitate it to nestmates. After this, the carnivorous bees add their enzymes and secretions to partially digested flesh to turn it into honey. Their honey is as nutritional as the honey of any other honey bee.
What to Feed Bees in the Winter?
The best food for bees is honey because it is their natural food. If you feel like your bees are facing stress due to a lack of resources, the best option is to feed them with honey.
However, people often get confused about the thought of feeding bees with honey.
Feeding honey to bees is as easy as sugar syrup. However, you have to keep the fact in mind that bees do not eat the honey as it is. They dilute it with water. Thus, you also have to dilute it by mixing 30% water with 70% of honey.
Once you are ready with the diluted honey, you can feed it to bees with any of the above-mentioned feeders.
How to Feed Honey Bees?
To feed bees the basic idea is to keep the honey in a way that is easily accessible to bees. There are multiple ways to feed bees, like bucket feeding, tray feeding, or open feeding.
The best way to feed bees is through the slow release method. Earlier people used to bulk feed their colony. It can harm the bees in two ways. The first is it can trigger robbery and the second one is that it will not produce the desired response of bees toward feed.
Therefore, it is considered to use feeders instead of bulk feeding.
- Frame feeders: These are feeders that are like frames of the hive and stay at one side of the box. It can hold up to three liters of sugar feed.
- Bootle feeders: They were popular in the past. It involves placing a bottle filled with sugar syrup at different locations of the hive, like at the entrance or at top of the hive. The bottle has a small hole for bees to drink syrup. Bucket feeders are similar to bottle feeders in concept except they use a bucket instead of a bottle.
- Tray feeder: It is the most easiest and common method employed by many beekeepers. In this, they place a tray at top of the hive with some straw and sugar syrup to prevent bees from drowning.