Honey bees are social insects that live in colonies and have ecological, evolutionary, and economic importance. A typical honey bee colony consists of a queen responsible for reproduction, worker bees performing inside and outside the hive, drones, larvae, and offspring in the pupal stage. Honey bees also need nourishment like any living creature. So, do you know what honey bees eat?
Honey bees eat foods that can also be consumed by humans, such as nectar, honeydew honey, pollen, royal jelly, and water. In the colony, protein-based nutrition becomes carbohydrate-weighted in time and adapted according to physiological development periods. Pollen and nectar collection, ie foraging activities, are determined according to the genetic structure of queen and worker bees, the size and demographic structure of the colony population, and other environmental factors (season, temperature, precipitation, flora, etc.).
Even though supplementary feeding practices are applied, the feeding of honey bees depends entirely on the flora, so the quality, quantity of food sources, and how they are free from pesticides are of great importance for the continuity and health of the colonies. Healthy and strong colonies fight diseases and pests better, use natural resources better and increase the number of products obtained from beekeeping, as well as contribute to the increase in quality and quantity in plant production with their contribution to pollination.
Honey bees play an important role as pollinators in world agriculture, but their populations have been threatened by parasites and pathogens, exposure to pesticides, feeding on inadequate and poor quality diets over the past three decades. Nutritional stress caused by habitat transformation and loss is thought to be among the main contributors to losses in bee populations. Especially in areas where chemical control is carried out for productivity in monoculture agriculture, it is necessary to raise awareness about the use of honey bees in crop production for the gradual decrease of natural pollinator insect populations and yield and product quality.
Time Schedule for Feeding Honey Bees
The bees will be fed depending on the seasonal conditions and in this way, the bees will develop depending on the season. Below I will write about the methods of feeding bees seasonally.
- Feeding Bees During Winter
Consciously beekeepers attach importance to winter feeding. Especially if the weather is hot, more feeding is needed. It is very important that we need to give cake or liquid food during these periods. First of all, we should leave enough honey stock for the bees in autumn before the bees enter the winter and we should overwinter in a way that will not disturb the bees until spring. Colonies that have reached the limit of starvation in early spring should still be fed not with cake, but with very dark syrup. In this way, the hunger problem can be overcome more easily. Because whether you feed solid food, the bee has to mix it with water to make it usable. By giving dark syrup, you make the work of the bee easier. If the weather is warm like spring in winter, there are a few feeding methods and I will write them below.
- Feeding the Bees in Spring
With the warming of the weather, the bees start to work more and the queen bee engages in more egg-laying efforts. We make spring feeding in order to increase the bee staff by encouraging the queen bee to lay eggs before the main nectar flow. In general, we need to provide liquid feeding so that the bees can lay more eggs and the population grows. We should stay away from liquid feeding during the winter months so that we can prevent the bees from laying eggs untimely. In general, we should give sherbet in the evening in the spring, as the bees are strongly connected.
- Feeding the Bees in Autumn
Autumn month and winter feeding are actually intertwined. By feeding autumn, we also make winter feeding. We need to add a frame with honey from the other hives that have less honey stock. If we do not have a honey frame, it is fed by making syrup.
- Feeding with Honey
We can feed the bees by giving the honey frames we have. We can give the honey frame as a normal frame, or if you leave it on the normal frames, the bees consume the honey.
- Feeding with Bee Cake
If you want, we can feed the bees by giving the bee cake you have purchased or produced yourself. In general, it would be better to do this method in the winter months when the weather is cold.
- Feeding with Syrup
We can give it to the bee by putting the syrup we call invert syrup in refrigerator bags. Or you can purchase commercially available bee food.
Basic Nutritional Requirements of Honey Bees
The basic nutrient needs of honey bees are evaluated individually and on a colony basis. These nutritional requirements show some differences according to gender, development period, especially adult worker bee age groups, reproductive functions in queen and drones, and season. While the carbohydrate source of honey bees is obtained from nectar or secretions, the protein source is pollen and bee bread.
Honey converted from nectar, bee bread from pollen, and royal jelly produced by consuming them contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fats as well as the carbohydrates and proteins required by honey bees. Although the water requirement of the colony is mainly provided by nectar, the water is also transported to the hive by the foraging bees if needed. Like all living things, honey bees need water to survive.
Water is necessary not only to maintain the osmotic balance in adult bees but also to prepare liquid food for the brood and to cool the hive on hot days. In a honey bee colony, the need for water collection by farmers increases when high temperatures make it necessary to cool the hive by evaporation and decreases when the danger of overheating passes. Although there are individual differences, it has been reported that honey bees especially prefer saline water sources containing sodium.
The Importance of Carbohydrates in Bee Nutrition
The energy required for wax secretion and honeycomb knitting, cleaning inside the hive, feeding other juvenile and adult bees, adjusting the temperature inside the hive and brooding area, flying of the foragers collecting pollen and nectar, and other activities inside and outside the hive are provided from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates that meet the energy needs; It is derived from sucrose, a disaccharide found in nectar, and its monosaccharide components glucose and fructose. The ratio of these sugars varies between 10-70% according to the plant species where the nectar is collected.
The energy content of flower nectar depends on its volume and sugar concentration. Bees can distinguish small differences in nectar concentration and prefer those with higher concentrations. While adult bees make use of carbohydrates such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, trehalose, and maltose, they cannot use rhamnose, xylose, arabinose, galactose, mannose, lactose, raffinose, melibiose, stachyose, dextrin, insulin and some of them are toxic carbohydrates.
Nectar contains sugars as well as water and some other substances that give honey its unique aroma. The water content of nectar varies according to its source and environmental conditions. Although amino acids are in lesser concentrations, especially in plant nectars pollinated by insects, they are among the other most abundant substances in nectar composition after sugars. It has been stated that the amount of proline in nectar attracts honey bees, and similarly, glycine improves the attractiveness and learning ability of honey bees.
Proline is also considered as a quality criterion in honey. Other substances in nectar composition; Various researchers have reported that they are organic acids, terpenes, alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, vitamins, phenolics, and oils. When worker bees fill their honey stomach with nectar and return to the hive, the nectar is taken orally by these bees or other bees in the hive and stored in the comb cells. The process of transformation of nectar into honey is started in the honey stomach of the fieldworker bees, by adding invertase, diastase, glucose oxidase enzymes, the moisture content is reduced to 16-20% during the maturation process.
Due to their social organization, foster worker bees are responsible for feeding all other individuals in the colony. Care worker bees also have to consume pollen and honey to produce royal jelly, which is baby food. A worker bee larvae reach an average weight of 150 mg after a 5-day feeding period, while drone larvae reach 340 mg at the end of the 6.5-day feeding period. The total amount of carbohydrates for raising a worker bee is estimated to be roughly 59.4 mg and 98.2 mg for a drone.
A mature honey bee needs about 4 mg of usable sugar per day to survive. It has been reported that foraging worker bees who collect pollen and nectar for each hour of flight require about 8-12 mg of sugar. It has been reported that the annual honey requirement of a honey bee colony is around 60-80 kg. In colonies that are not fed additionally after honey harvest, the number of larvae raised is also limited if carbohydrate deficiency occurs in spring when the reservoirs remaining from the winter season are exhausted and nectar resources are weak.
The Importance of Proteins in Bee Nutrition
Pollen, which is the male gametophyte of flowering plants, is the main protein source of bees as well as a source of micronutrients. In terms of its chemical composition, pollen consists of proteins, lipids, sugars, fibers, mineral salts, amino acids, phenolic compounds, and vitamins. The high concentration of reduced sugars, essential amino acids, and unsaturated/saturated fatty acids, Zn, Cu, Fe, and high K / Na ratio makes honey bee pollen important for human diets. The main components of pollen; carbohydrates (fructose, glucose, sucrose), proteins (amino acids, enzymes) between 10-40%, crude fibers between 0.3-20%, and lipids (fatty acids, sterols, hydrocarbons) ranging from 13-55%. ).
Honey bees require ten amino acids for growth: arginine, histidine, lysine, tryptophane, phenylalanine, methionine, threonine, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Although the protein and amino acid content of pollen depends on the botanical origin, it has been reported that the essential amino acid concentration is stable regardless of the botanical origin, especially glutamic acid, aspartic acid, proline, leucine, lysine, arginine, and serine amino acids are abundant in the pollen content by various researchers. The chemical composition of pollens collected from flowers, hand-picked from pollen traps and honeycomb cells (bee bread) differs. It was determined that the protein level of 377 hand-collected pollen species varied within a wide range of 2-60% of dry weight.
Pollen with different surface shapes collected from flowers by field worker bees are moistened with a little nectar and carried to the colony in pollen baskets on their hind legs. Pollen, which is added more nectar, salivary secretion, and microbial content in the hive, is usually stored in the cells close to the juvenile area and consumed in the form of bee bread with higher nutritional value. Pollen consumption and requirement of worker bees vary depending on their age and role in the colony. Consumption and metabolization of pollen in the colony do not occur equally among all bees.
Especially 8-day-day care worker bees are the primary pollen processors and distributors of the colony due to the highest proteolytic activity in their stomachs among other individuals. Care worker bees must consume pollen during the first 8-10 days of their lives to develop their hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands and produce larval food. However, foraging bees consume very little pollen, have less enzymatic ability to digest pollen, and their hypopharyngeal glands are atrophied. Protein-rich royal jelly is produced not only to feed the offspring but also to feed the queen among adult individuals.
Pollen Requirement in Honey Bee Nutrition
The pollen requirement of a ten-frame honey bee colony has been reported as 17.8 kg. Unlike honey, pollen is stored in less amount, and the stores are consumed faster when there is no fielding activity. Larvae are particularly dependent on protein, and offspring production is strongly affected by protein deficiency, and cannibalism (offspring eating) behavior can be seen. There is an important relationship between the mean glazing time of the larval cells and the arrival of pollen; The less pollen stored in the hive during the development of the larva, the sooner the larval eyes will be glazed.
There is little evidence that bees can assess pollen quality as with nectar and select pollen with high protein levels. The response of honey bees to deficiencies in the quantity or quality of their pollen reserves was to increase the amount of gross pollen brought into the hive rather than specializing in pollen collection with higher protein content. Adding nectar to the pollen of different sizes and shapes facilitates the transport of worker bee pollen to the hive in baskets.
Bee bread is of great importance for the survival of the colony and for population growth, especially in the early spring. Colony population growth and worker bee quality are significantly affected by dietary composition. According to the results of a field study conducted to determine the optimal dietary protein concentration in honey bee nutrition, the crude protein content of 29.5–34.0% was recommended in the honey bees diet in early spring. The high protein content in the diet has the opposite effect, shortening longevity, and decreasing population growth.
The composition of royal jelly, the other protein source of the colony, consists of 60-70% water, 9-18% proteins, 7-18% carbohydrates, 3-8% lipids, essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. However, in the composition of royal jelly, niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine (B6), thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin as well as magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, and copper minerals, less contain polyphenol compounds. Honey bees are unique even among social insects, as only female larvae that feed on good quality and abundant royal jelly can be reared as queens.
The larvae to be reared as queen bees are fed intensively for the first three days with mandibular gland secretions and then with a mixture of both mandibular and hypopharyngeal gland secretions. Worker bee larvae are fed with a mixture of royal jelly, honey, and pollen in the remaining days after feeding with hypopharyngeal gland secretions for the first few days of the larval period. The first food of the larva (the first 3.5 days) is rich in protein, while the last food is rich in carbohydrates. After adult emergence, the worker bees are fed from honey and pollen cells around the brood area, as well as mouthparts (trophallaxis) from other worker bees.
On the other hand, drone larvae are given lower quality protein and more nutrients due to the longer development period and body size. The effects of honey bee pheromones on nutrition and nutrient gathering should also not be forgotten. Both queens and broods produce primary pheromones that strongly affect cooperative brood care. Non-self-feeding honey bee larvae emit pheromones, affecting the behavior and physiology of nursing worker bees, encouraging them to provide appropriate food sources, stimulating more pollen collection.
Digestive System in Honey Bees
The digestive system of honey bees is a tube-shaped channel that starts from the mouth and extends to the anus and has specialized regions for different purposes in different regions. The origin and early development of the digestive system in embryos of all animals are somewhat similar. In insects, the digestive tract begins to consist of three separate parts during the embryo period. Mesenteron (embryonic stomach) is formed around the egg yolk remnants in the middle of the body, small pits are formed to form the mouth and anus in the anterior and posterior parts, as the pits deepen, the tubular ingrowths become the foregut (stomodeum) and the hindgut (proctodeum), respectively.
The inner extensions of these two parts reach up to the mesenteron, resulting in a continuous channel. The foregut and hindgut are actually covered by epithelium, which is a continuation of the outer skin in animals and retains the ability to form hard cuticles on their surface. Malpighi tubes, which are enlarged inward from the inner end of the posterior intestine even narrower, function like the kidney in mammals. The hindgut does not merge with the midgut until the larva takes its last nutrient and approaches the pupal stage and excretes the feces that have accumulated in the midgut.
In adult bees, the foregut forms the oral cavity, esophagus, and honey stomach, mid intestine the stomach (ventricle), and the hindgut part forms the small intestine that ends with the large intestine and anus. Honey stomach histologically has the same epithelial tissue as the esophagus and is also found in queen bees and drones, but the most developed form is seen in worker bees. The digestive system of honey bees is basically located in the abdomen and connected to the mouth by a long esophagus.
The honey stomach, which is connected to the rear end of the esophagus, is in an expandable form and has the task of carbohydrate storage in carrying nectar or water to the colony, as well as providing the energy required for flight muscles of the worker bees that take flight. The proventricular valve located in the last part of the honey stomach prevents liquid foods from passing into the stomach. Pollen grains are filtered from the liquids in the honey stomach and sent to the stomach where digestion and absorption will take place.
While solid wastes containing pollen shells, fat globules, dead stomach cells are sent directly to the small intestine and rectum, liquid wastes with nitrogen are absorbed from the blood fluid by Malpighi tubes and sent to the small intestine for discharge. The rectum is in a form that can expand significantly to contain waste materials in winter. The fat body, which is the main biosynthesis and food storage organ of insects, is critical at every stage of the life of insects. During the metamorphosis of holometabolous insects, almost all organs and tissues change, and the production of proteins specific to the larvae and pupa is terminated while proteins specific to adults are expressed.
Fat tissue present as cream-colored cells for the storage of food reserves in the dorsal and ventral parts of the honey bee abdomen; It consists mainly of thin layers of cells loosely arranged with thin lobes with tracheal tissue that radiate into the abdominal wall. These cells synthesize vitellogenin, a glycol-lipoprotein, by digesting pollen and store it as a reserve food substance in adipose tissue.
Honey Bee Digestive Enzymes
Honey bees have four pairs of glands secreting into their mouths. Of these, the labial or salivary glands and thoracic salivary glands play a role in the digestion of food. Both of these glands make secretion to the mouth with a common channel, basically functioning in dissolving sugars, softening the materials to be chewed, and cleaning the queen bee. Thoracic salivary glands in honey bees correspond to the basic salivary glands in other insects, from which silk is secreted during the larval stage.
Thoracic glands have a more watery secretion that can dissolve sugars, and labial glands have a more oily secretion. Invertase enzyme, which is involved in the transformation of nectar into honey, is secreted from the hypopharyngeal glands responsible for the secretion of royal jelly. Although the size and function of the thoracic and labial salivary glands are not related to the age of the worker bee, the function and size of the hypopharyngeal glands are related to the age of the worker bee.
The development and physiological activity of the hypopharyngeal gland vary according to the age and duty of the worker. It has been determined that worker bees produce enzymes that are used to transform nectar into honey, especially after the 15th day. These enzymes are enzymes such as invertase, α-glucosidase, amylase, glucosidase oxidase, galactosidase, esterase, lipase, leucine arylamidase. It has been reported that invertase is responsible for the conversion of sucrose to fructose and glucose, which are the main sugars in honey, that gluconic acid keeps honey acidic and creates an antiseptic effect with hydrogen peroxide, and glucose oxidase converts glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide.
Amylase, on the other hand, is thought to be necessary for converting plant origin starch in nectar into glucose. In the honey bee genome; Genes encoding carbohydrate metabolizing enzymes (174) and coding lipid metabolizing enzymes (28) were determined. In particular, dramatic changes in gene number or genomic organization have been identified for genes encoding glycolytic enzymes, cellulase, glucose oxidase and glucose dehydrogenases, glucosamethanol-choline (GMC) oxidoreductases, fucosyltransferases, and lysozymes. Fatty acid synthesis and metabolism, ketone synthesis and degradation, metabolic pathways for glycolysis/gluconeogenesis, and their relationship with carbohydrate metabolism are described in detail.
The Most Important Time to Eat: Spring Feeding
Enough honey is left for the bees to feed in the winter. Thus, they are provided to go to spring. When the air temperature reaches 14-15 degrees in the spring, they go out of the hive during windless hours. If the bees do not have diarrhea during their first flight, they throw out the feces they have stored in their large intestines. This is the months of March and April. Without opening the hive, 2-3 breaths of smoke are given through the front hole, after opening, smoke is given from the top again several times. The bottom board of the opened bucket is cleaned and examined.
- It is checked whether there is a queen among the worker bees that died during the winter.
- The disease is suspected if there are a large number of worker bees dead.
- If there are rows of wax scraps under each frame, the bees are starved.
- If there are chunks of sugar, the honey is candied due to the lack of moisture.
- If there is pollen on the bottom board;
- If the pollen spillage is in rows, taking into account the honeycomb scraps, the hive is trusted,
- If the pollen spills were mixed, the bee family went hungry.
- It means that there are no idle eyes left for the queen to lay eggs and raise new offspring.
- If there are signs of moth or honeycomb scraps on the bottom board, the hive has been mothed.
- If there are black spots on the bottom board, the hive is mothed.
After these examinations, the bottom board of the beehive is thoroughly scraped with a hand iron. These scrapings are burned or buried in the ground. Then it is wiped with soapy water and dried. It is even flamed. We are ready to feed with syrup after the first examination in the spring. The second examination is done again when the temperature is fifteen degrees. The examination starts from the first frame and continues to the left. If necessary, one of the empty frames is removed. It can be worked comfortably and the queen bee is not disturbed. Frames are handled one by one and the queen bee, worker bee, honeycomb, food, and disease status are examined. If the queen bee is young, 2-3 frames should have offspring.
If the fry is small, it starts to spawn after a few days of feeding. If it does not work again, the new moment is given. If the honey frame is less, it is reinforced from other hives. If the worker bee is less, the hive is narrowed with a dividing board. Heat and humidity are provided. Care is taken to make sure that the framed frames are in the middle and the empty frames are on the side. In order to reproduce the bee family, it is ensured that the queen starts to lay eggs early. In order for bees to feed their young properly, the temperature inside the hive should be 30 degrees. In such hives, the condition of a one-day egg on the combs is checked. It is checked if there is a false queen egg or not. If the hive has not yet chosen a false mother, we directly give the queen using a cage.
The purpose of spring feeding is to provide nutritional supplements to the colonies with food shortages, to give some drugs to the bees by adding food or to encourage the queen to lay eggs, to start and accelerate the incubation activity early, to ensure that the colonies enter the nectar flow with strong staff. The general principles of spring feeding are:
- If there is a requirement, additional feeding should be made. The two natural foods of bees are pollen and nectar. The main thing is to provide an environment where bees can find natural food. If this is insufficient, additional feeding should be done.
- The prepared foods should be given to the colonies in the evening, and the flight holes should be narrowed in the beehives that are fed. Food residues such as syrup and cake should not be spilled left and right. In other words, mistakes that encourage bees to plunder should be avoided.
- The colonies should be fed little by little at frequent intervals instead of giving too much feed at once.
- Especially in early spring feeding, the beehives should not be kept open for a long time and the offspring should not be cold.
- Instead of trying to strengthen weak hives by intensive feeding, strong colonies should be formed by combining them.
- Feeding should not be given to healthy colonies with feed taken from infected colonies (honey, pollen, cake, syrup).
- In spring feeding, the feeding program should be started 6-8 weeks before the nectar flow and feeding should be stopped in the nectar flow.
Honey from the previous season or honey frames taken from colonies with more honey in the spring is given to the colonies to be fed. Under natural conditions, the food of a colony is honey and pollen, but when its stock decreases, the energy need in this period is met with honey, sugar, or sugar syrup, and the protein need should be supplemented with pollen or vitamins to replace pollen. Bee cake can be made in various proportions. Bee cakes can be prepared with honey, powdered sugar, pollen, skimmed milk, and some medicines. The aim should be to prepare food with a nutritional value close to the nutritional value of fresh and natural pollen.
In spring, it is essential to feed with syrup whether there is enough honey in bee families or not. This is necessary to increase the hatchery activity by encouraging the queen to lay eggs and to meet the water and energy needs of the bees on bad weather days. To encourage ovulation, sugar + water should be in one to one ratio. The water of the syrup to be prepared is boiled in a bowl, then cooled and mixed until the sugar is completely dissolved in the water, the syrup should never be boiled on the fire. The drugs to be added should be added when the syrup is given to the bee. Syrups should be given in containers called feeders made in various shapes and volumes.
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