What Do Honey Bees Eat & Why?
Bees provide food that we enjoy. They increase crop yield through pollination of our gardens and honey bees make honey. But like all living things, bees have needs – what do bees eat?
All living things need nourishment in some form. Honey bees are not exception. They require food to survive. Where do they get the carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals needed for survival.
The Honey Bee Diet Plan
A healthy bee colony works together to meet the needs of all members of the hive. The exact diet of a honey bee depends on the species, the age of the bee and the availability of food.
Bees eat nectar and pollen that is collected from flowers and blooming plants. This is true for other bees too, not just honey bees. You will see many types of bumblebees collecting nectar and pollen.
As honey bees gather sweet plant nectar, they may enjoy a sip if they are hungry. But there primary goal is to convert nectar into honey.
Why Bees Eat Honey?
Honey is a perfect food for over-winter storage. Nectar, which has a high moisture content, is not suited for long term storage. It would spoil.
You may see honey bees on cracked fruit and think that they are destroying your grapes. In fact, the proboscis of the honey bee is not usually strong enough to pierce fruit skin. But, they will take advantage of sweet fruit juice when available.
Not all nectar is collected from a flower. Some plants have “extra-floral” nectaries. This means they secret nectar from other parts of the plant – not just the bloom.
Honey bees also eat honey dew and in some cases make it into honey (or at least a honey-like substance). Honey dew is the sweet secretions of other insects such as aphids.
Bees need carbohydrates for energy but they need protein too. Protein is necessary for larval development . Worker bees eat pollen (or bee bread) to encourage production of “brood food”. Brood food refers to secretions from glands in the mouth of nurse bees.
Bee bread is a mixture of pollen, honey and bee saliva. This fermented substance makes digestion of the pollen protein easier.
Bee larva are fed according to their future role. All fertilized eggs result in female larva. Whether the larva becomes a worker or a queen depends on the needs of the colony.
If the colony is preparing to swarm, or needs a new queen for any reason, some of the female larva will be fed a special diet.
Queen bees share the same genetic base as workers. Fed a rich diet , they develop into sexually reproductive females.
All young bee larva eat royal jelly for the first 3 days. After that time, worker larva consume bee bread and honey until the larval stage ends.
When new adult worker bees emerge from their cells, they consume large amounts of pollen. Eating pollen in the first few days encourages the completion of their development.
This protein boost enables the young adults to develop glands necessary for feeding baby bees. They are now nurse bees and continue in this duty for several weeks.
Once worker bees reach the age of a forager, they are no longer capable of digesting pollen. From that time on, the bees only eat honey and nectar.
Food for Queen Bees
Larva selected to become queens are fed a special diet. For years, we have called this special queen food “royal jelly”. It is the only thing that queen bees eat.
Royal Jelly is a milky secretion produces by the hypophrangeal glands of young adult worker bees. Now researchers are questioning the exact composition of queen rearing brood food. Is royal jelly truly the compound responsible for queen development?
Will Honey Bees Eat Sugar Water?
You betcha they will. In times of need, beekeepers can feed honey bees sugar water. This mix of cane sugar and water mimics nectar as much as possible.
It is not intended to replace nectar or honey. Sugar water does not have all the essential vitamins and minerals found in nectar. It will keep the bees alive until natural food becomes available.
Do Bees Drink Water?
Honey bees need water to maintain their colony. Water is collected as it is needed. It is not stored in the hive. Water is used to thin thick honey and control the humidity and temperature inside the hive.
Even non-beekeepers have fun providing water for insects. Some enjoy making they own bee waterer and seeing what comes to drink.
Do Bees Eat Meat?
No, honey bees do not eat meat. They are vegetarian – though they may steal a sip of your cola if left setting outside.
Wasps however are not bees, they are predators – meat eaters. Wasps such as Yellow Jackets and others eat meat – other insects and even honey bees!
Do Bees Eat Wood?
No, not honey bees. But some types of bees will bore into wooden structures and can be quite destructive. Carpenter bees are a big problem around my old barn.
What do Bees Eat When We Take Their Honey?
Honey bees are very productive. They work hard and consistently. Continuing to work as long as there is food to collect, a bee colony can fill several boxes of honey in a season.
This is much more stored honey than most bee colonies need for winter survival. Beekeepers add extra boxes to honey bee hives. After the bees have filled boxes for themselves, we get the extra honey.
Conscientious beekeepers know how much stored honey is needed by their colony for winter. We take only the excess. This assures the honey bee colony of having enough food for winter.
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