As one of the most revered but simultaneously feared insects in modern-day society, many people don’t know what to make of bees. This is because unless you’re a beekeeper, chances are you aren’t interested in coming in contact with one!
Despite only certain types of bees stinging humans, the general fear of being stung by a bee is the precise reason that humans maintain their distance. Because of this, though, we miss out on seeing them in their natural habitat, including figuring out what they eat.
What Do Bees Eat?
Because there are many different types of bees, the answer to this question will always be slightly varied depending on which type you’re talking about. However, there are some general principles you can follow to get an idea of what a bee’s general diet is. For example, bees are mainly attracted to honey, pollen, and sugar. This is because they are able to get a sufficient amount of nutrients out of all of these different types of food. These foods also help keep their energy up, sustaining the bee so they can continue to harvest and work for their hive.
The way in which they cultivate and consume these foods can also vary depending on which type of bee you’re referring to. For example, worker bees often make honey themselves by harvesting nectar (a sweet liquid typically found in flowers), afterwards combining it with enzymes and waiting for the water to evaporate. After the water is gone from the product, it becomes honey, something that the bees can then eat. Honey also satisfies their need for sugar, making it a prime suspect for a bee’s general diet.
We’ll be taking a look at some of the further nuance surrounding the diet of bees and we hope that you stick around for these interesting facts!
Where Do Bees Go to Get Their Food?
Believe it or not, if you see a bee in the wild, it is most likely very far away from its hive. This is because bees typically go away from their home to forage for food and water, the time at which they’re most visible to humans.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can follow them back to their home, though. Many bees can travel for up to 6 miles away from their home just to go get food, so you’d be following them around for quite some time!
Foraging for food can be a way for bees to also explore the many different types of food sources that are around them. Typically this means flowers and other types of plants that contain pollen and nectar, but it can also mean certain things left on your picnic table.
Bees Want My Food?
Yup! When you spill your sugary soda on the ground and a flock of bees zip towards it, it’s not because they want to antagonize you. In fact, they just want the sugar that spilled out of your drink, typically making it a goal to expose themselves to find that sugar wherever they’re able to.
This is not an essential part of their diet, though. Bees have more important food interests to keep track of, such as their general tendency to get most of their food from pollen and nectar.
Bees Aren’t There to Hurt You
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, many people avoid bees out of fear of being stung. While for some this might seem like a realistic fear, your fear of bees might be the reason as to why bees have stung you in the past.
For instance, when a bee is out in the wild it is often foraging. This is not an inherently aggressive action, nor does the bee do it to find people to sting in response. Instead, they’re simply searching for food and water, something that does not involve the input of humans.
Something that does cause bees to sting, though, is any aggression directed towards them. This is because a bee’s stinger is part of a defense mechanism to keep them safe, so they will typically only sting in moments during which they feel unsafe.
So, when you swat away a bee that is just trying to find some food, you might actually be instigating the scenario you fear most. If bees feel threatened, they will likely try to sting you, so it’s important to let bees mind their own business so you can stay safe.
Do Bees Only Feed Themselves?
Nope! When worker bees go out to forage for food, they typically gather nectar and pollen to bring back with them, feeding these items to other members of their colony and sometimes even the larvae that are not old enough to find their own food. This is often because bees have a collective sense of responsibility when it comes to their well-being. Because hives are comprised of entire colonies of bees, many have their own specific roles in making sure the structure is maintained.
Do All Bees Eat the Same Food?
The answer to this question varies depending on what their role is in the hive. For example, many worker bees eat the same exact foods such as honey, pollen, and nectar. However, the elusive queen bees (less common in a hive) are typically fed a different diet while growing up to change their overall larval development.
For example, when a larvae is designated to grow up to be a queen bee, instead of feeding it the nectar that most larvae get, it is fed royal jelly. Royal jelly is the name given to a certain type of secretion often compared to “mother’s milk”. Produced by worker bees, royal jelly is packed with protein and a great way for larvae to get a boosted amount of energy in their early stages.
This special type of food helps the larvae grow much faster than their peers, allowing them to grow up and manage the hive’s overall processes easier. It does this by affecting their overall development, changing the entire process that makes the larvae grow.
Once they’ve fully grown up, queen bees will often maintain this diet of royal jelly in order to maintain their high levels of energy. Eating so much protein early on in their life also contributes to their size, explaining how queen bees are often twice the size of a normal worker bee.
In contrast to the less common queen bee diet, worker bees are typically fed something called bee bread, a type of food that is essentially honey and pollen combined. Bees will make this and then feed to larvae that are destined to become worker bees, mixing it with royal jelly to also give them a tinge of protein in their diet.
It should be noted, though, that these feeding situations are almost always for bees out in the wild. If a bee is kept in captivity by a beekeeper, they will sometimes be fed sugar directly instead of having to forage for it as part of their diet.
How Do Bees Forage?
The foraging process for bees typically involves using their bodies. As they’re not simply able to bundle up and carry as much of any given material as they need, they rely on their body hairs (referred to as setae) to catch any pollen that they are surrounded by. It typically gets stuck on their setae as a result of their rapid movement inside a flower, but can be redirected to their legs for storage. Bees are able to store pollen through the usage of storage pockets located in the back of their legs.
After doing this, bees can then take their findings back to the hive and share with the rest of the worker bees. Some types of bees don’t have built-in ways to store pollen. As a result of this, they’ll often move the pollen they forage for to a nearby plant for safekeeping.
Do Bees Only Get Food From Flowers?
Not necessarily! Though flowers are the most common way that bees eat, it isn’t the only way they do. For example, when there isn’t as much food to be found in flowers, bees will feast on the honeydew that often manifests on other plants.
The term honeydew refers to a special type of sticky substance that manifests when insects feed on plant sap, typically causing moisture on the plant itself. You might already be familiar with this specific substance as it can be easily seen on grass in the early morning hours.
For many bees, honeydew can act as a replacement for nectar in their diet, though it is typically a last-minute solution due to it not being as beneficial for a bee’s diet. The amount of honeydew that bees eat doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to early morning hours, though. Many bees will go underneath plants during the day to get the honeydew that has not yet evaporated.
Is a Hive Used For Storage?
Yes! As you can imagine, the many different cells that make up a beehive also double as storage units for bees to keep their pollen and nectar safe in.
Do They Carry Sugar Too?
Though bees often eat sugary substances and foods, the size of these types of food or their liquid nature makes it difficult for bees to take back much to their hive. As a result, they typically eat sugar on the spot.
Even if bees were to encounter pure sugar crystals, the texture of the sugar would not as easily stick to their setae as easily as pollen does, making it difficult to harvest in the first place.
Does Hibernation Affect a Bee’s Diet?
Yup! When bees hibernate for the winter, it’s important that they consume a lot of food beforehand. This is in order to give their body the proper nutrients to stay energized and well-fed during their slumber.
Once they’re out of hibernation, it’s also important for them to consume some food quickly. Because one of the most important aspects of any bee’s diet is a heavy amount of protein, they’ll typically spring for protein immediately. Thankfully, they don’t have to go out and forage for this food, as it’s typically stored within the cells of their beehive before they go to sleep.
What Do Bees Eat When Flowers Aren’t in Bloom?
This is a good question, as it’s a well-known fact that flowers are not available year-round. Bees are able to cope with this by working heavily during the spring and summer seasons, harvesting pollen and storing it along with nectar. By doing this, they’re able to have a steady supply of food that can be accessed during any time of the year.
It should be noted, though, that this is typically the case for honeybees only.
To contrast with this, bumble bees do not store honey for the winter as most of the hive typically does not survive the winter. Instead, the new queen bees are able to hibernate while the other worker bees unfortunately do not survive the harsh, colder conditions.
Queen bumble bees are able to survive hibernation by eating extensive amounts of food beforehand, building up their fat reserves for the explicit purpose of feeding off of it while they’re asleep during the winter.
Though it might seem logical for regular worker bees to also try building up their fat reserves to do the same, the average worker bumble bee does not have the bodily strength or resources to build such a reserve up. This is due to the accelerated growth and size of queen bees, due to the aforementioned protein-filled diet.
What Do Bees Use Water For?
Because bees can get a lot of their hydration through nectar, it isn’t necessary that they use water for the same purposes.
However, water is still an important item for bees as they are able to use it to dilute honey when feeding larvae. Being able to feed larvae diluted honey allows them to not only conserve the amount that they have, but control the concentration of what they’re feeding the youth.
Water also has the additional use of being able to be spread on the inside of a beehive, allowing it to be cooled on warmer days. This extra layer of cooling can often help regulate the temperature during the summer season.
Does the Diet of Bees Affect the Wildlife?
It’s a common misconception that bees taking pollen and nectar from flowers leads to them not growing as much as they should. Instead, bees actually transmit pollen from one flower to another, typically leaving behind trails as they go along. This creates the opposite effect as is commonly thought, giving plants more pollen and significantly contributing to the pollination process.
This reason is why bees are so important for any given ecosystem that they inhabit. Through their eating habits, they not only feed themselves but also help maintain the plants and flowers that surround them.
How Do Different Types of Bees Eat Differently?
As we mentioned earlier in this article, different types of bees will have slight alterations to their diets.
For example, Africanized bees have a different overall diet than European bees, mainly in their intake of pollen. Their intake of pollen is typically much larger than European bees, mainly due to the importance of protein in their diet. Needing more protein means needing more food, leading to Africanized bees having a much larger diet than their European counterparts.
Africanized bees also have a different foraging schedule, typically beginning and ending their days earlier and later than European bees, respectively. This is because the larger amount of food needed requires them to spend more time foraging, leading to some bees going well into the night to get their necessary resources.
In the event that Africanized bees are not able to get enough food during periods of drought or famine, they often employ tactics of raiding other hives in order to get fresh supplies. This typically involves a powerful beehive targeting a weaker, less populated one—to combat this, many hives have stationary guards that help protect their food supply, often stinging unwanted intruders as a form of self-defense.