The benefits of pollen to honey bees
The honey bee’s basic nutritional requirements are similar to those of humans; namely, they need proteins (amino acids), carbohydrates (sugars), minerals, fats/lipids (fatty acids), vitamins, and water. In order to meet their nutritional requirements, honey bees collect nectar, pollen, and water.
Bees forage for water at almost any source close to their colonies. These sources include ponds, streams, leaky taps, pools, and bird baths. In hot weather, bees use water to cool the colony by agitating the droplets inside the hive to evaporate. Water can also provide essential minerals in addition to hydration.
Honey bees consume processed nectar (honey) and pollen (bee bread), both of which are provided by flowers. Nectar, which bees convert to honey, serves as the primary source of carbohydrates for the bees. It provides energy for flight, colony maintenance, and general daily activities. Without a source or surplus of carbohydrates, bees will perish within a few days. This is why it is important to make sure that colonies have sufficient honey stores during the winter months. Colonies can starve quickly! Nectar also is a source of various minerals, such as calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, and sodium, but the presence and concentration of minerals in nectar varies by floral source.
Pollen, in the form of bee bread, is the honey bee’s main source of protein and it also provides fats/lipids, minerals, and vitamins. The protein that pollen provides is vital to brood production and the development of young bees. Pollen is the most nutritionally variable food source that honey bees use and typically is composed of the following: water (7%–16%); crude protein (6%–30%); ether extract (1%–14%); carbohydrates, including reducing sugars (19%–41%), non reducing sugars (0%–9%), and starch (0%–11%); lipids (5%); ash (1%–6%); and unknown (22%–36%). Pollen from different floral sources has different quantities of each component: all pollens are NOT equally nutritious to the bees.
The protein pollen provides is essential for hive growth, but the amount of crude protein available in pollen is highly variable among different pollens, ranging from 6%–30% of the total dry weight of the pollen. Protein is composed of amino acids, 10 of which have been identified as essential to honey bees. These include threonine, valine, methionine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, histidine, lysine, arginine, and tryptophan. The quantity and type of amino acids present in pollen varies by the floral source from which the pollen was collected.
Pollen Collection By Honey Bees
It has been observed that honey bee workers choose pollen based on the odor and physical configuration of the pollen grains rather than based on nutritive value. A typical-size honey bee colony (approximately 20,000 bees) collects about 57 kg of pollen per year. On average, 15%-30% of a colony’s foragers are collecting pollen. A single bee can bring back a pollen load that weighs about 35% of the bee’s body weight. Bees carry this pollen on their hind legs on specialized structures commonly called “pollen baskets,” or corbicula.
Some Interesting Bee Facts
- Bees have 5 eyes
- Bees are insects, so they have 6 legs
- Bees fly about 20 mph
- Male bees in the hive are called drones
- Number of eggs laid by queen: 2,000 per day is the high
- Female bees in the hive (except the queen) are called worker bees
- Bees have been here about 30 million years!
- An average beehive can hold around 50,000 bees
- Bees carry pollen on their hind legs in a pollen basket or corbicula
- Foragers must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey
- The average forager makes about 1/12 th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
Source: University of Florida