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Randy Goodall
Randy Goodall

Fat Bees Skinny Bees

In summary, protein is precious to the honeybee colony, and its sole natural source is a mixture of plant pollens. Bees store reserves of protein in the bodies of house bees in the form of vitellogenin, and conserve those reserves zealously, by recovering them before house bees graduate to become field bees. Field bees thus give up the life-extending and immunicological benefits of vitellogenin. Protein is transferred within the colony from bee to bee by the sharing of vitellogenin produced by nurse bees. Vitellogenin levels affect the foraging behavior of field bees. Nurse bees, queens, and winter bees are long-lived and more stress and disease resistant due to their high vitellogenin titers. Successful wintering is dependent upon the last rounds of bees emerging in the late summer/fall having adequate pollen available in the broodnest.

Fat Bees Skinny Bees

As with all creatures, good nutrition is very important to a colony of bees. Many beekeepers only look at the amount of liquid stores a colony has, but pollen is equally important, yet often ignored. A lack of liquid stores can lead to starvation in both summer and winter, but a shortage of pollen can have a serious effect for some time, as poorly nourished larvae can result in poorly performing or unhealthy adults.

Pollen varies in constituents, depending on the source and it is generally accepted that a wide variety results in healthier colonies. When inspecting colonies, have a look at the colour of pollen. The greater the variation of colours, the greater the diversity of sources. Sometimes, when inspecting several colonies in the same apiary on the same day, you can see some colonies that have largely one colour of pollen, suggesting the bees have become locked onto one source, yet other colonies will have a variety of colours.

Poor nutrition doesn't always mean a shortage of forage, but can be caused because the ratio between nurse bees and larvae is low, such as you get in the spring when a colony is building up, or if a nucleus or colony is made up with an imbalance of bees. An example of this that always sticks out in my mind was when I visited a BKA teaching apiary, where I had asked for a nuc to be prepared a day or so in advance for demonstrating. There were 5 frames of brood, largely unsealed, little food and very few bees. I suspect it was made up with too few bees and the flyers went home. I often see similar situations, especially beginners, when they are trying to get their second colony.

Colonies that suffer from poor nutrition become susceptible to disease, chalk brood and European Foul Brood (EFB) in particular. Both are often more of a problem in spring, due to the shortage of nurse bees to feed the larvae.

Chicago Honey Co-op is a registered agricultural cooperative in the State of IllinoisSome members are beekeepers, others just want to support what we do. Along with keeping bees, harvesting honey and taking it to farmers markets, we teach beekeeping and advocate for sustainable agriculture and awareness of the natural environment.

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, the neighbor's pool, dog dishes, and bird baths. During hot weather, honey bees use water to cool the colony by fanning and evaporating water droplets inside the hive. Water may 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 (Figure 1). 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 is produced by the stamen, which is the male reproductive portion of a flower (Figure 2). Honey bees play an important role as pollinators as they transfer pollen from the stamen of a flower to the stigma (female part) of the same or different flowers. Sometimes the pollen only needs to be transferred to a stigma on the same flower or another flower on the same plant, but often the pollen must reach a different plant altogether. Consequently, a very intricate relationship has developed between plants and their pollinators, because both parties rely on one another for survival.

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 (Figure 3).

Protein content is very important and is the most studied component of pollen, but little is known about the importance of other trace nutrients available in pollen to bees. The chemical analysis of the composition of pollen is complex and only a relatively few pollens have been investigated well. A good publication to review for pollen contents of many common plants is Fat Bees Skinny Bees ( -content/uploads/publications/05-054.pdf). The authors of this manual include a list of pollen compositions from some common Australian plants. When reviewing the list, remember that plants within the same genus often have similar protein contents. This list can serve as a guideline for predicting protein content of pollen from similar plants in the United States.

What can a beekeeper do to ensure that the nutritional requirements of the colony are met? A beekeeper should make certain that plants in the area actually provide pollen. For example, bees do not forage on many ornamental plants, so not all blooming flowers are attractive to bees. Also, the volume of pollen produced by a plant is not correlated necessarily to a bee's use of that plant's pollen. Pine trees, for example, produce copious amounts of protein-poor pollen but typically are not visited by honey bees. Additionally, plants that produce large amounts of nectar do not always also provide pollen for bees. When considering the nutritional requirements of honey bees, it is important to remember "variety, variety, variety." No single pollen meets all the nutritional needs of a colony so a variety of pollens from different plant sources will help ensure that these needs are met. Just like humans, bees need well-rounded diets. When inspecting a honey bee colony, one should see frames with a rainbow of pollen colors (orange, yellow, red, white, green, etc.) present in the cells. Additionally, pollen quality is more important than quantity.

A4 size soft cover book, blue sky cover with a photo of well kept hives on the edge of the bush, white & black writingBack cover photo of hives at the almonds & trees photos & flower photosInside cover front photos of bees, hives & a swarmInside back cover photos of Edward Moylan75 pages plus index

Bees all fall within the superfamily Apoidea, which also includes wasps. Not all bees make honey, have stingers, or are black and yellow. So what do bees have in common? All bees, in addition to having the general insect characteristics listed above, have:

Habits: There are over 40 species of honey bees, and all share three key characteristics: they produce wax combs (honeycombs), they live in a colony (sometimes with up to 80,000 bees!) with a queen, and, most famously, they produce honey. The western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most widely-spread and domesticated bee species in the world. Honey bees generate billions of dollars of revenue every year in the United States alone. They can sometimes be confused with wasps because they have a similar thin body, but honey bees are fuzzier and not as thin as wasps.

Habits: Leafcutter bees lay their eggs in hollow stems or twigs and seal the opening of the nest with pieces of leaves. Their large heads and jaws help them cut leaf pieces they need to seal their nests.

Habits: These types of bees get their name from the very long antennae males have (females have regular-length antennae). The antennae give the males a better sense of smell and taste, and they are also used to attract females. These bees nest on the ground, typically in areas high in sand or clay.

Habits: Like leafcutter bees, mason bees often lay their eggs in hollow stems or twigs, but they seal the nest with mud (which is how they got their name). They will also regularly visit bee hotels people have made if small holes have been drilled for them.

Habits: Plasterer bees get their name from the sticky cellophane they make from a gland in their abdomen. They then use the substance to line the walls of their nests. The substance is waterproof and resistant to many fungi and bacteria, which helps protect their home and eggs. They are known to nest in gardens, and their nests appear as small mounds of dirt next to holes in the ground. 041b061a72


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