Whenever weather conditions allow honey bees to fly from the hives, scout bees go looking for available nectar and pollen. A warm day in early January finds worker bees making cleansing flights and a few scouts searching for food. Without flowers in bloom, the scouts converge on the food bowls of our domestic chickens, ducks, and geese. The bees detect the grain dust in the feed comprised of cracked corn, wheat, and grain sorghum as being granules of pollen. Within minutes, the scouts convey their findings to long-idle foragers. Soon, each food bowl holds dozens of worker bees. The bees roll and tumble across the surface of the grain, covering their hairy bodies with dust. They pay no attention to the geese gulping the grain. Periodically, the bees stop and groom their bodies using the rakes and combs on their legs to gather the dust into pellets which they form by mixing granules of dust with honey that they carry in their honey gut. The worker in today’s photo carries pellets of grain dust on her hind legs.
Honey bees cannot determine the quality of the pollen that they collect. When pollen is not available in great quantities or from diverse sources, the bees may gather food of lesser nutritional value. Indeed, today the bees are not even gathering pollen; they are mistakenly gathering another product of a similar size and texture. Honey bees often mistakenly bring powdered insecticides, fungicides, and other small-particle chemicals back to the hive. Pollen provides the honey bees protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. The dust from the poultry feed probably provides the bees some nutrition. The sight of the bees actively foraging in the grain tempts me to put out some pollen substitute, but I feel like the time is too early. When the bees start bringing pollen back to the hive, it will stimulate the queen to start laying eggs. We still have too much winter facing us to stimulate the hives now.