Feeding Nature
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What Do Bees Eat?

Albert Einstein, one of the smartest people who ever lived, once said that “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” 

 It is quite bizarre to think that the extinction of an insect a tiny as your fingernail could result in certain death to all of humanity.  And yet, it is probably very true.

 Bees are incredibly important for all flowering plants.  Without bees, flowers would never be pollinated, fruits would never grow and trees would not be able to sprout seeds.  And without seeds very few plants will be able to reproduce.

 Bees are flying insects that belong to the Apoidea superfamily.  There are over 16 thousand known species of bees but the most popular of all is the western honey bee.  These specific bees are so infamous because they are not only important for pollinating flowers, these bees also produce tasty honey and useful beeswax.

 What Do Bees Eat?

Despite that there are so many different types of bees, these insects are quite limited as to the type of food they consume.  Most bees are nectarivorous or polyamorous.  But there are a few bee species that are carnivorous.  Here is a quick look at the most common food sources of bees;

 Water

All bee species do need water to survive.  Their bodies mostly consist of water.  This is why these insects are so common around bird baths or even around your open glass of water on a hot summer day.  They will dip into a pool or into a birdbath to collect water.  

 Some bee species, like the honey bee, will also collect water to use in their hives.  Some colonies require several liters of water in the hive and for personal consumption to survive.  

Water used in hives is usually used to dilute some of the foods that bees collect.  The brooding area or nesting area of bees also needs to be kept humid for larvae to thrive.  Water is also essential for the making of honey.  

 Nectar

Most bee species, including the honey bee, are Nectarivorous bees.  These bees will consume only / and nectar or pollen.  Worker bees collect nectar from plants by drinking it and storing it in their crops.  They will then fly back to the hive to deposit all the nectar they themselves do not need to survive.  

 While in their crops, nectar will be processed via bacteria in a bee’s crop.  It will then be deposited into a hive cell where some of the water will evaporate from the nectar.  After some time, the rest of the bees in the colony will start to manufacture this nectar into pollen.

 Bees can consume and collect the nectar of just about any type of flower.  Worker bees can see which flower plants have lots of nectar by the shape of the flower.  In a single flight, worker bees will collect nectar from a huge variety of flowers such as catnip, wisteria, sea holly, penstemon, verbena, lamb’s ear, rosemary, basil, calamine, lavender and a huge variety of others flowering plants.

 Pollen

Many bee species are Palynovorous bees or palynomorphs and nectarivorous bees.  Palynovortous bees feed off pollen they collect from flowers. 

Pollen is a yellow or green powder-like sustenance found in flower plants.  

 Bees collect pollen to feed on and to take back to their hives.  The pollen is used to feed larvae, young bees, or to make honey. 

While bees collect pollen, they also help pollinate flowering plants which result in the growth of fruits and vegetables.  Without bees to pollinate these plants, our world would be in real danger.

 Bees will collect the pollen of a huge variety of flowering plants but they do prefer plants that produce lots of pollen.  These plants can include trees like oak, ash, elm, maple, and many others.   It can also include weeds like ragweed, sagebrush, redwood, pigweed, and more.  Flowering plants like daisies, poppies, lavender, jasmine, and many others also offer lots of pollen for bees to feed on.

 Meat

Some bee species are carnivorous. There are not too many carnivore or insectivore bee species out there. 

A few species like vulture bees will only eat meat and are even able to produce honey from the meat they consume. 

This honey isn’t the golden and delicious honey we so love to eat.  This honey-like sustenance can look quite different and is used by bees to feed larvae. 

 Vulture bees will feed off any animal carcasses they find.  They will consume both dead flesh and blood and have sharp jaws to butcher into these meats.  Vulture bees will also consume human flesh.  Luckily, these bees are not very likely to attack you since they only focus on decayed flesh and tend to avoid live animals and humans.

 Wasp Brood

Carnivorous bees may also catch and eat wasp brood.  They use the blood of these wasp broods to make meat honey.  These bees may eat any type of wasp broods they can find including the brood of parasite paper wasps.

 Beebread

When bees mix pollen and nectar they produce a high protein food that is known as beebread. 

Beebread is used to feed immature bees such as larvae.  Worker bees may also eat this mixture of fermented pollen and honey.  

 Royal jelly

This is not the royal jelly you find in stores.  Royal jelly is a white secretion that female worker bees produce.  When nursing bees are busy feeding larvae, they will select some larvae as queen bees and others as workers or drones.  Workers or drones are offered royal jelly during the first few days of development but the queen larvae will be fed on this royal jelly throughout development.  

Honey

Bees can also eat and live off honey.  Young bees are also raised by feeding them the honey that bees produce.  

 Diet Variations

Bees are perfectly fine to survive on natural foods they find in the environment.  But many beekeepers do choose to offer their bees a little bit of syrup water as extra food.

 Bees will also swarm around any sweet-smelling beverage such as soda, fruit juice, and many others. 

They are attracted by the sweet smells of these drinks and while they might take a sip, it isn’t ideal to offer bees too much of these beverages since it can impact the quality of honey they produce.  

 How to Feed Bees

Bees usually do not need to be fed.  But some beekeepers do choose to offer a little bit of sugar water or syrup to their bees to keep these insects from starving.  You can offer sugar water in a flat saucer if you want to give bees a treat. 

It is however important not to offer too much sugar water because this can result in watered-down honey production which can cause severe damage to the bee colony.

 Bees that are fed syrup to keep them from starving or to help colonies flourish on bee farms, offer these insects syrup.  The syrup should be diluted in water by 50%.

 The best way to feed bees is by growing lots of flowers in your garden.  Most bees feed on nectar and pollen and they will be very happy to visit the many flowering plants in your garden.  

 How Much Do Bees Eat?

Bees don’t eat much at all.  5ml of honey is enough food for 277 bees for one day.  But some bee colonies can be pretty large.  A colony with 50,000 bees needs about 1.1 liters of 50% syrup per day. 

 In one year a colony of 50,000 bees will consume about 700lbs of 50% syrup.  If these bees were to feed on natural sugars, they would consume much more than 700lbs of nectar and pollen per year.

 What do Baby Bees Eat?

Baby bees are called larvae.  These tiny worm-like larvae are fed by nursing bees in the hive.  Most honey bees are fed honey but those who are selected to become queens will be fed on royal jelly that is secreted by young worker bees.  

 What Do Wild Bees Eat?

In the wild, bees can only consume foods they find in their environment.  This includes the nectar and pollen of basically any flowering plant in their region.  

 What Is The Diet Of A Bee?

During the first few days of a bee’s life, it is fed on royal jelly.  After the first few days, larvae are fed on honey while the future queen continues to be fed royal jelly.  Once the bees are fully grown, they will consume some of the nectar and pollen they collect.   Some bees that protect the hive will also feed on bee bread – a mixture of honey and nectar.  

 Do Bees Eat Other Insects?

Most bee species do not eat other insects.  Carnivorous bee species such as vulture bees do however consume the brood of wasps. 

They are however not very likely to consume full-grown insects.

 What Do Bees Drink and Eat?

Bees only drink water and they will only consume pollen and nectar found in flowers.  They will also consume by-products that they produce from nectar and flowers such as beebread and honey.

 Do Bees Eat Meat?

Only a small portion of the bee species does consume meat.  These are called vulture bees and they do consume any type of flesh from decayed carcasses.  These bees also make a product like honey but the product is much different.  

 Bees are marvelous creatures and they need all the protection they can get.   Our existence may very well depend on the survival of bees which is why it is so important for beekeepers and everyone else on our planet to take good care of these insects.