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The Nutrition of Honeybees / added 3rd January 2015

The three main ingredients in the diet of bees are pollen, nectar and water.

Pollen(s) is/are the only source of protein and are digested in the gut to amino acids the building blocks of new bee proteins.

Nectar is mainly sucrose (supermarket sugar) and is the bees' source of carbohydrates providing the bees with energy.

Water is used to dissolve foods, provide fluid in bee blood (haemolymph) as well as control temperature if it is hot.

When young bees emerge from their pupa they gorge on nectar/honey and pollen. The sugars are digested into glucose and fructose and help the wax glands develop so the bees can make or repair honeycomb. Some sugars are used by the bee to provide energy for muscles like the flight muscles. Surplus sugar can be stored as honey to be used in the winter or on a rainy day.

The pollen is digested in the gut, the amino acids produced are then absorbed and pass in haemolymph to the mandibular glands and the hypopharyngeal glands in the head where they make brood food. Brood food is a protein soup that the bees feed to larvae as they hatch from eggs raising a new generation of bees. Short life summer bees use their brood food up quickly but long life bees winter bees store the brood food for months.

The Beekeeping Bit:

Needless to say bees can die of starvation so feeding them sugar solution can help them survive and also build up stores for poor weather.  With excess sugar coming into the hive more bees are available to forage for pollen. March and April are the most likely months when colonies die of starvation. Increased day length stimulates the colony/queen into egg laying and food must be used up to keep the brood alive.

Bees need water to act as a solvent and regulate temperature. Bee books advise putting out water sources but in my experience such sources are a waste of time. My illiterate bees prefer damp patches on my flat roof, rhubarb leaves, moist peat in seed trays and smelly pond water.

I wonder if they are also collecting minerals?

For those wishing to find out more about bee nutrition Mark Winston's “The Biology of The Honeybee” is an excellent source of information.

John Everett December 2014