Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Feeding Honey Bees

When the honey bee split from its wasp ancestors about 100 million years ago, it took on a diet based upon food derived from the newly evolving flowering plants. A mutually beneficial strategy for survival of the bees and the flowering plants soon developed. The bees found carbohydrate in the sweet and attractive nectar from the flowers. They also found protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals in the pollen that these new flowering plants produced. Between the nectar and the pollen the bees assembled a complete diet needed to reproduce and thrive. With the honey bees’ assistance, the flowers got pollinated and reproduced in a much more efficient manner than had existed before when plants relied on the wind to distribute pollen. Together, the honey bees and flowering plants flourished. The flowering plants that reproduced most effectively were the ones that were the most successful in attracting honey bees and other available pollinators. They attracted the bees by offering a reward of sweet tasting nectar. They also provided attractive odors and visual clues to help the bees find the flowers. Blossoms developed with various colors, shapes, and patterns of petals. Many flowers developed ultraviolet nectar guides to direct the honey bees to the center of the flower to help ensure effective pollination.

While honey bees survive quite well with their unique ability to gather nectar and make high-energy food, honey, to carry the colony through dearth and winter seasons without available food, managed colonies do need supplemental feeding at certain times. Beekeepers regularly feed bees heavy syrup of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, both healthy bee foods, in the fall for the bees to convert to stored honey for the winter. Over winter, beekeepers can feed fondant, a candy made of sugar and corn syrup. In the spring, beekeepers often stimulate the bees to forage by feeding the colonies diluted syrup similar to the sugars in flower nectar. Beekeepers also use sugar syrup to deliver medications to the colonies when necessary.

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