You probably know that most bees produce honey, but do bees eat honey?
All honey-producing bees eat honey. In fact, honey is the prime food source for bees, and they stockpile it in the waxy comb of the hive for seasons when they can’t leave the hive to forage. Responsible beekeepers harvest excess honey, but not in fall when it could affect the cold weather stores that the bees have produced and are reliant on. Bees also feed honey to their young, so it is a very important commodity.
What do bees eat? Keep reading to learn more!
Bees and Honey
There is a misconception floating around that bees do not eat honey. Not true- honey is the bee’s primary food source- and they love it! Unfortunately for the bees, so do a lot of other species that may try and steal the honey and loot the hive for this liquid gold.
Bees carefully store and seal their produced honey in wax cells of the comb- this is for them to eat later. Under optimal hive conditions, bees produce more honey than they eat, which allows for the beekeeper to harvest some of the honey.
Some beekeepers also provide sugar syrup for the bees, which serves as a backup food source to keep them active and energized for the tough job of making honey.
The time that it takes to produce the honey varies, depending on many factors, but know that a bee produces around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey throughout their industrious, albeit short, lifetime.
Hungry for Honey
It’s true: Bees love honey! While there are other uses for honey, eating it is definitely the bees’ most important purpose for this golden treasure.
If you think about it, honey is basically processed plant nectar. For this reason, it makes sense that it would be a good food resource for any plant-eating species- which is why bees must defend and protect it vigorously.
The honey feeds the whole hive, including the drones- who are responsible for mating and bringing forth the next generation of bees.
Since drones do not forage or work, essentially, they are sustained by the hive’s stored honey. If the drone does not mate, they do get to return to the hive. Since drones do not forage on their own, they will die.
Most of the honey consumed is eaten by the worker bees. After all, the job that they do is tiresome and exerting. The worker bees eat honey in the hive to refuel and restore after a trip out foraging for nectar.
Other Uses for Honey
As a food store, honey is invaluable to the bees. Every member of the colony- from the very young to the old- eat honey. But what other uses are there for honey in the hive among the colony? There are a few:
- Bees use the honey to feed their young larvae in the hive. These tiny baby bees are unable to secure food on their own, so honeybees feed the young honey and royal jelly as they grow.
- Bees that do not live the social lifestyle of those in hives- such as underground bees- leave honey near the spot where they lay their eggs. This provides nourishment for the newly hatched bees when they are ready.
- Producing the honey provides the social environment and task that bees enjoy. As mentioned, there are bee species that are less social and that nest underground, however bees that make honey thrive in this community setting.
- The queen bee requires honey reservoirs to take care of her first hatchlings. She does not go out to forage for food- the honey must be close-by.
- The honey serves as emergency stores for the entire colony. Without it, the colony’s survival is in jeopardy. Certainly, the stored honey won’t sustain a hive long-term, but hopefully, it can sustain them during months when they cannot safely leave the hive.
Remember that it takes a lot of energy and exertion for a bee to not just make honey, but to produce the waxy comb that contains the liquid honey.
When harvesting, many industry experts suggest leaving a foundation for the bees to make their job easier- but more on that in another blog! The takeaway message is that honey is critical for the survival of bees, and bees are critical to the survival of mankind. It is that simple.
As you can see, bees do a lot more than just produce the honey- they eat it, too! In fact, without the honey, bee colonies would wither and die-off during the colder months when they cannot safely leave the hive to forage.
That is why most beekeepers know to stop harvesting excess honey in mid-to-late Fall, to allow the bees to preserve their honey stores to get them through winter when temperatures are too chilly to leave the hive.