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Nutritious "Smoothie" Mix May Energize Honey Bees

By Marcia Wood
July 29, 2003

Just like people, honey bees need nutritious food to stay strong and healthy. Now, more than two dozen beekeepers throughout the United States are giving their bees a chance to taste-test a new, high-energy drink formulated especially for hardworking honey bees.

The new beverage formulation may bolster the pollination prowess of domesticated honey bees, Apis mellifera. Honey bees are the primary pollinators of dozens of fruit, nut, seed and fiber crops.

The smoothie mix is a light-tan powder, about the texture of wheat flour. The formula provides protein and carbohydrate needed to keep adult honey bees well nourished when their regular foods--pollen and nectar from flowers--aren't readily available.

The powdered formula is the work of entomologist Gordon I. Wardell of Arizona-based SAFE Research and Development LLC and ARS colleague Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, research leader and entomologist at the ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Ariz. Wardell is collaborating with ARS colleagues under terms of a new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement.

The dry mix is less expensive to produce, and less cumbersome to store, than liquid formulas. According to the scientists, beekeepers should be able to mix the powder with corn syrup or other sugary syrup. Then, using conventional equipment already on hand, they could easily pump the high-energy drink into hives for hungry adult bees to sip.

Supplemental foods for honey bees aren't new. But the formulas that the Arizona researchers are creating should sidestep a key problem of some of supplemental foods, developed earlier. Those older foods didn't provide the nutrients essential to worker bees. As a result, worker bees raised on those formulas would eventually stop producing a royal jelly for feeding to developing bees. The result? Production of new bees could soon stop, meaning that the colony could no longer flourish.

Vigorous colonies are especially important today, since numerous honey bee hives in the United States have been hit hard in recent years by mites and other enemies.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.