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What Do Honey Bees Eat? - Complete Guide to a Bee's Diet

 
By Anaƫlle Laurent. September 27, 2020
What Do Honey Bees Eat? - Complete Guide to a Bee's Diet

We often see honey bees buzzing around flowers and heading towards their nest. It's also common knowledge that honey bees produce honey. But, have you ever wondered what honey bees eat?

In this AnimalWised article we're going to explain what honey bees eat. We'll also go through the nutrition of the food they consume and other fun facts about honey bees. Keep reading to learn more!

Nutritional needs of bees

Like other animals, bees need the energy from their food to perform all their vital functions to survive. They require a certain balance between different sugars (carbohydrates), lipids, proteins, minerals and water. For this, honey bees get these nutrients from their main food sources, which are honey and pollen.

Honey, obtained through the nectar in flowers, provides about 80% of the sugars honey bees need in their diet. Pollen, on the other hand, only provides 40% of the sugars honey bees need in their diet. Thanks to these sugars, bees are able to make wax. In addition it helps them produce internal lipids that are transformed into fat deposits, essential for bees to make hormones and substances that line their internal nerves. In other words, these sugars are essential for a honey bee's vital functions.

When it comes to essential proteins, pollen provides the perfect amount so that honey bees can develop properly in order to work for the survival of their colony. In addition, pollen is rich in vitamin B, an essential nutrient for bees since their body does not produce it naturally. Pollen also provides them with enzymes that will act as catalysts in different chemical reactions. One of the most important functions is laying eggs as this will dictate the survival of their colony.

Lastly, water is another essential part of a honey bee's nutrition. This is because it provides the humidity and temperature that they hive needs. This is essential as if it lacks or exceeds the optimal levels, the breeding and its development ceases.

What do honey bees eat?

Honey bees consume nectar, pollen, honey and royal jelly. These foods provide them with the nutritional needs they require. To consume these foods, honey bees need to go from one flower to another in order for pollination to occur and in order to collect nectar from flowers to make honey for their entire colony.

Let's look into each one of these a little more in depth:

Nectar

Honey bees absorb nectar from flowers to make honey. They do this by storing the nectar in their stomach and then passing it from worker to worker until the water diminishes and they are left with honey. Then, it is stored in the honeycomb. Honey is then used to feed the drones in their larval and adult stages, as well as the workers once they have passed the larval stage.

Pollen

Pollen is a great source of carbohydrates, protein and vitamin B. These are essential for honey bees to properly develop in order to work for the survival of their colony.

Honey

Honey is essential to the survival of a bee hive as honey provides them with 80% of the sugars they nutritionally require. Honey is often stored for the winter to feed the colony when worker bees cannot forage.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a honey bee secretion that is used in the nutrition of larvae and adult queen bees. It is secreted from the glands in the hypopharynx of nurse bees, and fed to all larvae in the colony.

You may also be interested in our article about how bees communicate.

What Do Honey Bees Eat? - Complete Guide to a Bee's Diet - What do honey bees eat?

What do queen bees eat?

Queen bees have a different function than worker bees, so you may wonder whether their diets vary as well. Queen bees only eat royal jelly. As we've previously mentioned, royal jelly is the secretion of worker bees. This food is rich in protein. All bee larvae are fed some royal jelly for the first few days after hatching but only queen larvae are fed the jelly exclusively.

You may also be wondering how a bee becomes a queen bee.

What kinds of flowers do bees eat?

Bees need to go to different flowers in order to collect nectar to make honey. However, do bees have a favourite type of flower they go to? Bees are mostly attracted to blue, purple and yellow flowers. Nevertheless, they visit many flowers in order to have different proportions and types of sugars.

Bees will often the same bed of flowers when they know they have nectar rich in fructose and glucose. Here are some of honey bee's top choices when it comes to flowers:

  • Lilacs
  • Lavandar
  • Wisteria
  • Mint
  • Sunflowers
  • Poppies
  • Black eyed Susan
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lantana
  • Snapdragons
  • Sedums
  • Pale Purple Coneflower
  • Daisies
  • Milkweed
  • Dandelions
  • Sweetclover
What Do Honey Bees Eat? - Complete Guide to a Bee's Diet - What kinds of flowers do bees eat?

Other fun facts about bees

Bees belong to the Hymenoptera order and within this group there are several insects that play very important ecological roles. Bees are social and gregarious insects with unique characteristics, here are some of those interesting and fun facts about honey bees:

  • They are arthropod animals, that is to say that their body is segmented into the head, thorax and abdomen. They have three pairs of legs, membranous wings and their body is covered by villi.
  • They have compound eyes, in other words, in addition to a pair of antennas through which they can receive different types of signals, be they chemical, olfactory or movement.
  • Their body size varies. Most bees are about 2 mm long, but they can also be larger. This is the case of Trigona minima whose body reaches about 63 mm long, like the female Megachile pluto. Learn more in our article about the different types of honey bees.
  • Females are endowed with a stinger at the end of the abdomen, which is the modified ovipositor organ.
  • Their front legs are adapted for cleaning the wings, while the back ones are in charge of transporting pollen to the hive.
  • They have a great capacity for communication between all the members of the colony. They mostly communicate through dance.
  • They form colonies and live in hives where they build their combs made of bee wax. They follow a hierarchy system where each bee fulfills a role. The highest position is held by the queen bee. She is the only one in the colony capable of laying eggs and having great longevity. Following her are the workers, in charge of obtaining food, keeping the hive clean and defending it, and then the drones (non-worker and reproductive males).

Now that you know what bees eat, some of their main characteristics and some fun facts, do not miss out on this video where you will discover why they are so important for the planet and more!

If you want to read similar articles to What Do Honey Bees Eat? - Complete Guide to a Bee's Diet, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.

Bibliography
  • Córdova Muicela, VE (2017). Evaluation of protein sources in the diet of bees (Apis mellifera) (Bachelor's thesis) .
  • Gardi, T., Famiani, F., Micheli, M., & Moschini, M. (2001). INDUCTION OF THE FEEDING OF HONEY BEES TO IMPROVE THE POLLINATION OF ACTINIDIA DELICIOSA .
  • Maeterlinck, M., & de Tornamira, P. (1967). The life of bees (No. QL568. A6 M3318 1971). Espasa-Calpe.
  • Mendizabal, FM (2005). Bees Albatros Publishing House.
  • Vit, P. (2005). Products from the hive secreted by bees: Beeswax, royal jelly and bee venom . Journal of the National Institute of Hygiene Rafael Rangel, 36 (1), 35-42.

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