Like all living things, bees need food to survive.
We most often see bees while they are looking for food. When we see them on flowers in our backyard, they are actually far from home and may have already traveled up to 6 miles in search of food.
Although bees are not usually aggressive when looking for food or water, if we disturb them they can sting us, which can make them undesirable guests. But, above all, the cause is our reaction. Usually, we react wrongly.
What do bees eat and drink? Do bees eat honey? How do they find honey plants? What are other sources of food for bees? These are frequently asked questions, so let’s answer these questions and find out more interesting facts about bees.
Honey, Nectar And Pollen
Before we get to answer the question of what bees eat and what their feeding process looks like, let us briefly recall what nectar, pollen and honey are in the world of bees.
Bees travel from plant to plant, collecting nectar and pollen. By collecting nectar and pollen, together or separately, bees pollinate the plant. Nectar is nutritionally necessary for bees. Bees that fly out of hives with the task of collecting food bring nectar into it, a sweet liquid from the flowers of honey plants. On the way to the hive, they add their enzymes to the sweet juice and hand it over to the domestic bees.
Pollen is another part of a bee’s diet. Pollen or flower powder is a product of plants that bees collect. The taste and color of pollen depend on the plant from which it originates. It is often called the source of life, because it serves not only as food but also as a biological factor in maintaining the bee species.
For bees, pollen is of exceptional importance and is food, without which they cannot raise a brood, excrete wax and royal jelly, i.e., they cannot perform their vital functions.
Honey is more than a sweet treat for bees. Bees make honey from plant nectar or honeydew. Honeydew is the secretion of nectar-eating insects.
Bees turn nectar into honey so they can store it. Bees that can make honey have a honey stomach to transport nectar. This special bag can be filled with nectar that will not be digested.
Honey is produced by dehydrating nectar. The process of making honey can vary from species to species, including how long it takes to produce honey.
Read more about this process: How Bees Make Honey?
The Needs Of The Bee Community For Food
When establishing a beehive, it is necessary to know what number of bee communities can be kept in the given conditions or what kind of honey base should be created for a certain number of bee communities. Various experiments have been performed to determine the exact amounts that the bee community spends on food.
Based on the research, the following data are obtained. The bee community consumes 48-52 kg of the amount stored in the hive. This amount does not include the part of the food that the bees collected from the flowers and which they consumed during the flight without bringing it to the hive (26 kg). It is also necessary to add the amount of food that bees consume in the secretion of wax (to produce 1 kg of beeswax, bees consume 3.5 kg of honey). Bees also replenish the amount of water lost when excreting feces (water content somewhere around 70%).
In total, during the season, bees compensate for the mass of wet excrement, which reaches 13.3 kg. All this costs about 90 kg. About 20 kg of pollen should be added to this amount of nectar.
Do Bees Only Eat Nectar And Pollen?
When we talk about bee food, we think about bees that feed on flowers, garden plants, trees and shrubs.
And there are small exceptions here as well, so some bees will sometimes find food elsewhere.
Did you know that there is a species of bee that knows how to eat meat? Sounds unreal doesn’t it? I only recently found out about this and I will certainly do my best to research and write an article about this type of bee.
It has been observed that bees eat overripe fruit, and sometimes eat sweet secretions of extra-flower nectars found on the green leaves of plants and shrubs. They can even eat the sweet secretions of other insects, especially aphids.
So, What Do Bees Eat?
Bees get most of their nutrients from their main food sources, which are nectar and pollen (flower powder), but there are certain differences in bee diet depending on the age of the bee and the species.
While nectar is mainly a source of carbohydrates, pollen contains most of the other essential nutrients: proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins.
Most honey bee larvae eat honey. Honey bees collect pollen and nectar from a variety of flowering plants, including milkweed, dandelion, clover, goldenrod, and a variety of fruits. Workers and drones feed on royal jelly only during the first few days of larval development, while larvae selected to be future queens eat royal jelly throughout their development.
Royal jelly is a white secretion produced by young worker bees. It consists of pollen and chemicals from the glands of worker bees. Royal jelly contains dietary supplements, fertility stimulants and other medications, as well as B vitamins.
Because selected queens eat only royal jelly, they grow quickly and become twice the size of ordinary bees. Due to the rich nutritional value of royal jelly, queens can survive for five years and lay up to 2,000 eggs each day.
Only workers look for food, consuming as much nectar as possible from each flower. After feeding, the worker bees return to the hive and hand over the collected nectar to another worker. This worker holds the nectar on her tongue until the liquid evaporates, creating honey. The honey is then stored in a cell inside the hive.
How Do Bees Know Which Plants To Visit?
Interesting question, isn’t it?
In order to find flowers, honey bees rely on their sense of sight. Bees recognize yellow, ultraviolet, blue and blue-green, while they do not see red. If you want to know more about how bees recognize colors and how they recognize flowers by color visit my recent article “How Many Eyes Does A Bee Have? “
The flower is represented to bees by colorful petals, many of which have bright ultraviolet spots that people cannot see without special equipment. The fact is that almost a quarter of the flowers reflect ultraviolet rays. These ultraviolet spots are called “bee guides” or “nectar guides”.
Also, the shape of the flower is important. Some flowers have flat surfaces to make it easier for bees to land, while others have elaborate modifications to ensure pollen sticks to every bee they visit.
Do Honey Bees Eat Honey?
Bees are the main consumers of real honey. It is the primary source of adult food. It is very important in winter. Without stored honey to eat during the winter, the colony would die.
The ability of a colony of honey bees to survive the winter depends on their food stores. They draw energy by using honey to maintain a suitable temperature in the hive. If the colony has a short supply of produced honey, the bees will freeze to death before spring.
In the absence of honey, worker bees force drones to come out of the hive, leaving them to starve. It is a cruel, but necessary punishment for the survival of the colony. Otherwise, the drones would eat too much precious honey and thus put the whole colony in danger.
Other Resources Bees Consume
Bees are highly dependent on flowers and without it they would not be able to survive. But whenever flowers are not readily available, they will eat something else.
During periods of weight loss or to boost productivity, beekeepers can sometimes offer the colonies wheat proteins, which are a combination of brewer’s yeast and soy flour.
Cane or beet sugar can also be used to make carbohydrates.
Beekeepers often help hungry hives in times of need by feeding them sugar water.
This mixture is not a substitute for natural nectar or honey, but will keep the colony alive until natural food becomes available.
Like humans, bee communities also cannot live without water. Honey bees need water to maintain their colony. Water is collected as needed and used to dilute thick honey and control humidity and temperature inside the hive.
In large beehives, they use sugar-honey dough (cakes) to feed the bees in the spring. Dietary supplementation has a number of advantages over sugar syrup supplementation. Communities that received sugar-honey dough were shown to perform better than those that received sugar syrup.
Read more about this process: Do Bumblebees Make Honey?
The bee is a fascinating creature that plays an important role in the world of food production. The relationship between bees and flowers is amazing. In this article, I wrote about the nutrition of bees, i.e. how the process of feeding in the hive takes place, which are the main sources of bee food, whether bees eat honey and which are alternative sources of food for bees.
Next time you eat honey, think about what we have in common with bees. Bees work hard to produce the honey they need to survive. And do we appreciate enough that they selflessly share it with us?