How do bees eat and drink? Do they only drink nectar from flowers? Do they eat honey? All bees eat pollen, or do they do something else with it? What about the diet of queens?

Those are the kinds of questions I am asked, so let’s answer them and more.

 

Bees mostly eat and drink pollen and nectar from flowers, but their diets differ depending on their age and species.

When pollen (mixed with nectar) is stored as food for larvae, it is placed inside the egg cells of solitary bees, such as leaf cutters and mason bees.

 

Many people ask us ‘what do bees eat?

Plants provide honey bees with two essential nutrients that they need to survive. This amazing relationship between flowers and bees continues. How do honeybees obtain these two vital foods? What do honeybees eat?

 

What is the reason why bees eat pollen and nectar?

 

The two are nectar and pollen. In a liquid solution of sugar and water, nectar eventually becomes honey. Bees consume nectar as a source of carbohydrates. Sugar is converted into energy by bees, so nectar is essential for activities such as flying, ventilating the hive, and building comb.

 

Pollen is the primary source of protein and fat for the bees, as well as minerals and vitamins. Brood production and the development of young bees depend on it.

 

The nutritional value of pollen will vary from plant to plant, and not all pollen is created equal. A protein is made up of amino acids, and ten of these acids are essential to honey bees. The amino acids and raw proteins present in plants will differ.

 

Bees have a similar diet to humans. They require variety. More floral sources are better for bees. That’s why it’s so important to combat factors like climate change, pesticide use, and intensive agriculture that affect biodiversity. 

 

In many of our blogs, we mention wildflowers and how important they are, both as flowers and as a food source for bees. There are also trees, shrubs, hedgerows, and lawns, all of which provide food and habitat for wildlife. 

 

The British environmental charity Plant life is asking this week: ‘how many bees do your lawn feed?’. There’s some great information on how lawns can provide a banquet of food for pollinators. Mowing your lawn only once a month can greatly benefit the flowers. Dr. Trevor Dines of Plant life says, “the sheer amount of flowers and nectar produced on lawns mowed every month can be astonishing.”.

 

Bee are vegetarians or vegans?

 

Bees are vegetarians and vegans… mainly! There are (believe it or not!) a few exceptions to this rule in some parts of the world, with some bees known to eat meat – more about this later!

However, most of us think of bees feeding on the flowers of herbs, cottage garden plants, and trees and shrubs.

Which food does a bumble bee eat?

 

Adults mainly consume nectar with a little pollen, though queens may consume more pollen, at least initially.

Queen bumble bee species emerge from their winter slumber, the first thing they need is food to replenish their energy levels and sustain them as they establish their colonies.

Nectar will provide a lot of energy. As the queen prepares her nest for raising her colony, she builds a little pot from wax close to the brood cells. She stores nectar there to feed herself while she incubates her eggs. 

Pollen is not only a rich source of protein, but it contains several chemical compounds that promote the development of the ovaries of the impregnated queen. When the eggs become larvae, the larvae eat the pollen the queen has stored for them, but as they grow, they eat the nectar and pollen regurgitated by the queen and fully grown adult workers.  

Honey bees eat honey, right? What do bees eat during the winter?

Adult honey bees eat nectar and pollen primarily. Royal jelly, a protein-rich secretion produced by young worker bees, is fed to larvae. The glands that produce it are the hypopharyngeal glands, a pair of long, coiled glands on the sides of the head.

 

The amount of food the larvae receive depends on the future role they will play in the colony. Those destined to become workers are fed both bee bread (a substance made from honey and pollen) and a little royal jelly, while those destined to become queens are fed only royal jelly.  The drones (males) are fed a little more of this special food than the workers. 

 

Honey is nectar stored in wax honeycombs by honey bees that have been converted into honey by a chemical process. Honey is then used to supply food to the colony through the winter months when fewer flowers are available for food, and the weather prevents the bees from going out to forage.  

(Bumble bees do not store honey for winter as honey bees do. I discuss elsewhere whether bumble bees make and eat honey).

 

Do bees eat honeydew?

 

Honeydew is a sugar-rich sticky liquid, secreted read more about why beekeepers feed sugar to their ap. When food is scarce, bees may eat it to survive and sustain themselves (that includes honey bees and bumblebees) as a substitute for nectar, although it is believed to be not as nutritious.

Common questions

Nectar is only found in flowers?

 

Bees sometimes consume nectar from extra-floral nectaries found on leaves and stalks of plants. I observed bumble bees feeding on extra-floral nectaries on the underside of green laurel leaves one year. We were in a forest at that time, and little was in bloom. It is a fairly common behavior, including among honey bees and wasps.

As far as possible, choose plants that provide food for pollinators. There are many herbs and cottage garden plants that are perfect for bees, but there are also many shrubs, climbers, and trees.

Bees eat fruit, right?

 

Honey bees have been observed to feed on very ripe fruit, including apples, plums, grapes, peaches, and pears.

 

Bees eat wood, right?

I have been asked this question, and I do not know of any examples where this has occurred. I assume the person was curious because they had been watching wood boring bees or carpenter bees: presumably, they had observed the bees excavating their nest holes in pieces of wood by chewing and gnawing at the wood.

 

Bees eat meat, right? Do they eat insects?

 

The vast majority of bees are vegetarian, but I am aware that a very small number of tropical species (notably in Panama) do this! They are called Vulture bees. Trigona hypogea, one of the Vulture bee species, has been observed to eat dead lizards and insects.  

What are the reasons why bees eat dirt?

They do not, but I understand why some people believe this to be the case. In this case, some species of bee – typically mason bees – are collecting mud to build their nests, but they aren’t eating it. 

It is also possible that the species of bee observed is actually building a nest by burrowing a tunnel into the ground, but again, it is not eating the dirt.

 

At the moment, what are the bees eating? We’d love to see any photos of bees on flowers you may have! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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