What do Bees Eat?
Great question, right? The answer might surprise you!!
Did you know that bees use their vision to locate food? They are color sensitive insects! Just like early man using his vision to identify brightly colored fruits as a source of nutrients and energy, bees also use color to identify sources of food that will best feed their colony.
That said, as there are many types of bee, the question of what bees eat has a variety of answers.
Honey bees utilise nectar and pollen as a food source.
Nectar is a sweet fluid made by flowers to attract pollenating insects. Worker honey bees drink the nectar of flowers and store it in an internal storage container called a ‘crop’. They then fly back to share the nectar with other worker bees, some who may never leave the hive, through a process of regurgitation. The worker bees mix nectar with special enzymes in their stomachs and place it into the cells of the honeycomb, fanning the cells with their wings to help water evaporate. The result… honey!
The yellowish powder-like substance produced by flowers is called pollen and can be rather sticky. Honey bees have little hairs all over their bodies that pollen sticks to when the honey bee comes in contact with the flowers. Bees move this pollen to a special area on their hind legs called pollen baskets. The pollen is mixed with nectar to form a high protein food mix known as beebread which is fed to bee larvae.
Honey bee young female worker bees produce a white secretion called royal jelly which is fed to future queen larvae.
Bee food for winter
The answer to the question, what do bees eat, can change dramatically as the weather changes from the fabulous flower producing temperatures and conditions of spring and summer. Your hive might need some help as the temperature drops in fall and throughout winter.
Honey bees store the honey they produce and usually these stores can sustain a hive throughout the winter months when pollen and nectar-filled flowers are severely lacking. There are times when honey bee colonies are plunged into a long winter without enough honey stored. So, what do bees eat during these times? It’s up to us as bee keepers to vigilantly feed our hive during these times.
What do bees eat in winter? Bee syrup, bee fondant or bee candy?
Extra honey from your own hives is the best way to provide bee food in winter. The next best thing is sugar syrup or bee syrup.
If the temperatures in your area are going to drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius, it is best to feed your hives bee candy or bee fondant.
During the winter months, if you are feeding your hive to ensure their survival, bee syrup is the next best thing after honey from your own hives. Made easily from water and white table sugar in roughly two parts sugar to one-part water this is a cheap and easy way to keep your bees going during the colder months.
Bee candy is an excellent cold weather method of feeding your bees during the cold and often difficult winter months for your hive. The special bee candy mixture contains sugar mixed with a variety of essential oils specifically for bee health, including peppermint, wintergreen and tea tree, along with some salt, pollen and honey to attract the bees to the bee candy.
Bee fondant usually comes in round patties and consequently, is also called bee sugar cake. As soon as the temperature really starts to drop, be proactive with the feeding of your hive, moving from bee candy to bee fondant. This way, your bees will be eating honey and sugar simultaneously.
There are a number of bee fondant products on the market to help you winter feed your honey bees. They provide adequate carbohydrates and only a small amount of protein. Simply spread over the top bars of your hive.
Sugar water for bees
Honey bees need water in addition to food. They gather water to cool the inside of the hive on hot days. The water they gather is also used to dilute the honey when they feed their larvae.
To ensure your hives are perfectly hydrated mix your bee syrup with water present to your bees in a bee feeder to reduce the risk of drowning and to ensure you can easily observe your bees as they feed.
Need to know more about bees?
More about Keeping Honey Bees
For more detailed information on what do bees eat, complete with step-by-step guides and the science behind beekeeping, you can’t go past Sanford and Bonney’s Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees, found at the link below.