What Do Bees Eat?

Written by Rebecca
Updated: October 3, 2022
© TB studio/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Bees generally feed on two types of flower products: nectar and pollen.
  • Honey bees can communicate the location of food to other workers with a dance.
  • When a young female larva is chosen as a new queen, she will be fed a substance called royal jelly.

Clad in two pairs of wings and (in most cases) a big, intimidating stinger, the bee is among nature’s most prolific pollinators. More than 16,000 known species have been documented, nearly all of which spread pollen between flowers (though only a few are capable of producing honey).

Bees can be divided into two general groups based on their social behavior.

More than 90% of all known species, including carpenter bees, sweat bees, and mason bees, either live alone or in small colonies. The remaining species, including the honey bees and the bumblebee, are “eusocialinsects. This means they form massive stratified hives of cooperative workers with a queen at its head.

Additionally, the reason bees are so loud is because they can beat their wings a staggering 11,400 times a minute. Although many people are scared of bees, only female bees can sting but often don’t. A hive of bees can live about 55,000 miles to make only one pound of honey.

This article will cover some fascinating details about the bee’s diet: what it eats, when it eats, and how it eats.

What Does the Bee Eat?

Bees eat pollen, nectar, and royal jelly.

©A-Z-Animals.com

Bees generally feed on two types of flower products: nectar and pollen. Nectar is the sweet sugar-filled liquid produced by plants to attract pollinating animals. The pollen is the powdery substance that contains enough male gametes (the sperm cells) to fertilize another plant. It is also composed of just about all the nutrition a small bee could desire: carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Many species have evolved pollen baskets so that, in the process of harvesting food, they will collect some pollen and transfer it to another flower. This is a mutually beneficial relationship that serves the interest of both the bee and the flower. Even if the bee eats some pollen, enough of it will be transferred to fertilize another plant.

Eusocial bees (such as bumblebees, honey bees, and stingless bees) have a unique social structure divided into three basic but distinct classes: drones, workers, and queens. The queen is the one who founds a new colony and produces all of the other bees.

When a young female larva is chosen as a new queen, she will be fed a substance called royal jelly, which contains plenty of Vitamin B, fertility stimulants, and other supplements. After consuming the jelly, she will grow to around double the size of an ordinary bee and lay around 2,000 eggs every day during her natural five-year lifecycle.

Compared to the queen and the drones, which mostly serve the purpose of reproduction, the workers alone are specialized for the task of collecting and processing food. When out on foraging trips, they will consume plenty of nectar for themselves and then bring back the remaining food to the rest to the hive.

Honey bees (though not bumblebees) can communicate the location of food to other workers with an interesting wiggle dance. It’s believed that each of the dance moves can communicate the direction of the food source concerning the sun, while the length of the dance supposedly communicates the distance.

Another unique behavior of honey bees (and some stingless bees) is the ability to create honey. This involves a complex process in which the worker will ingest nectar, process it, and then store the resulting honey in wax combs for later use in the winter. Most of the honey cultivated for human consumption is produced by a single species: the western honey bee.

Most bees do not generally eat anything besides pollen, nectar, and the occasional fruit. However, there are a few exceptions. The vulture bees of South America feed on dead carrion left over by other animals and then produce a honey-like substance from it.

What Do Bees Eat in the Summer vs. in the Winter?

Bees will generally eat the same things in the winter as in the summer, but the one thing that does change is their feeding strategy. Most species (like carpenter bees and sweat bees) will spend the winter hunkered down in tunnels, holes, or other safe locations, drawing from the stores of food to survive the cold.

Honey bees, likewise, will draw down their honey stores to last for the entire winter.

What do Bees Eat the Most?

Nectar is the preferred diet of most adult bees in the summer, spring, and fall, while pollen is generally fed to the larvae, but bees could conceivably eat either food at any point in their lives. They will travel miles from their home every day to find food.

What do Bees Eat When There are no Flowers?

Bees are highly dependent on flowers. They could not survive without them. But whenever flowers aren’t readily available, they will sometimes eat fruit as well.

What do Bees Use to Eat and Drink?

“Honey bees (as well as a few stingless bees) are the only ones that create honey and then consume it.”

©schubbel/Shutterstock.com

The bee is equipped with a very long instrument called a proboscis to reach the center of a flower and collect the nectar inside. The proboscis is roughly analogous to a human tongue, except it resembles a long, thin rod extending from the mouth. The mouth and proboscis are surrounded by strong mandibles, or jaws, to aid in cutting and biting.

Another important body part that aids in their diet (as mentioned previously) is the pollen basket. Located on the bee’s hind legs, it consists of hairs surrounding a curved surface. Upon visiting a flower, the bee will brush all of the pollen toward the basket and then mix in nectar to keep it all stuck together.

Do Bees Eat Fruit?

Yes, bees do have the ability to eat ripened fruit. They’ve been observed to enjoy plums, peaches, grapes, figs, pears, apples, and more.

Do Bees Eat Honey?

Honey bees (as well as a few stingless bees) are the only ones that create honey and then consume it.

A Complete List of the Top 5 Foods the Bee Eats

Bees tend to have a very basic diet consisting of only a few foods. Carpenter bees, sweat bees, and most other species rely almost exclusively on nectar and pollen to survive.

  • Nectar
  • Pollen
  • Fruits
  • Honey
  • Carrion

Next Up…


The Featured Image

bee eating nectar from flower
bee eating nectar from flower
© TB studio/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

My name is Rebecca and I've been a Professional Freelancer for almost a decade. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessing over cats and pet rats.

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