Honey Bee Nutrition
Honey bees require fats, protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and water to survive.
The bees obtain fat from pollens and to some extent, nectars. They have to be broken down into fatty acids – the short-chain fatty acids are used for energy and the long-chain fatty acids are used in the cell walls of the bees to promote healthy functioning of the cellular structure. The very-long-chain fatty acids are normally used by the bees to make reproductive hormones and pheromones, which is used by the bees to communicate with each other.
Bees get their protein from pollen. The digestive enzymes of the bees break them down to amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Once the protein is broken down, the body of the bee re-assembles them into certain enzymes and protein required for various body functions. The pollens from different flowers offer anywhere between 4% and 60% protein and the bees require between 18% and 22% protein during the summers. Thus it is vital that the bees harvest pollen from different plant sources to maintain their protein requirement.
Carbohydrates are converted to energy which the bees mainly use when they go foraging or for in-hive activities, to make bee-bread and honey. Main source of carbohydrates is sugar and bees get them from nectar. The sugar content will differ from plant to plant and could offer anywhere between 5% and 75% sugar. Flowers that are sweeter are preferred by the bees because they are higher in sugar content. Cooked starches are better digested by the bees. The intestinal bacteria tend to feed on the raw starch more than the bees which cause diarrhea and loose faeces in most species of bees.
Studies haven’t yet made it clear about the significance of minerals in the bees. However, since all insects require magnesium, potassium and phosphate, the bees too might have the need for minerals. Sodium chloride, sodium and calcium are toxic to bees when consumed excessively. Pollen happens to be the main source from where bees get their intake and nectar too offers some minerals. Darker the honey, the more minerals are contained in it.
The nurse bees need the following vitamins to survive-
· Folic acid
· Ascorbic acid
· Pantothenic acid
· Nicotinamide/niacinamide to rear the brood
All of these are Vitamin B complex. Fresh pollen or the stored pollen from the hive is the source of vitamins for the bees.
Bees use water in the summers to control the humidity in the hive and to dilute their honey so it can be added to brood food. Bees usually like to draw their water sources from a swimming pool instead of freshly available water. This is probably because they prefer water with salts. Many bees have been observed to forage on urinals. The reason could again be to get salts as the pollen or nectar does not provide adequate sodium.
Honey bees will obtain all their nutrients from the natural surroundings. Thus rearing bees in a natural environment will help them get sufficient nutrients.