Apis mellifera feed on pollen and nectar collected from blooming flowers. They also eat honey (stored, concentrated nectar) and secretions produced by other members of their colony.
Workers forage for food (nectar and pollen) for the entire colony. They use their tongues to suck up nectar, and store it in the anterior section of the digestive tract, called the crop. They collect pollen by grooming it off the bodies and onto special structures on their hind legs called pollen baskets.
Returning foragers transfer the nectar they have collected to younger worker bees that in turn feed other members of the hive, or process it into honey for long-term storage. They add enzymes to the honey, and store it in open cells where the water can evaporate, concentrating the sugars.
Young workers eat pollen and nectar, and secrete food materials, called “royal jelly” and “worker jelly”, from glands in their heads. This material is fed to young larvae, and the amount and type they get determines if they will be queens or workers.
Honeybees forage during daylight hours, but are equally active on cloudy or sunny days. They will not fly in heavy rain or high winds, or if the temperature is too extreme (workers can't fly when they get below 10°C). During the warm, calm weather the honeybees collect the most pollen even if it is cloudy. If the light intensity changes rapidly, they immediately stop working and return to the hive. If it lightly rains, pollen collection stops, because moisture inhibits the bee’s ability to collect it. However, nectar collection is not inhibited by light rain. Wind also affects the rate of pollen collection.
Honeybee workers are opportunistic. They will steal from other hives if they can. Hive-robbing can be dangerous, but a weakened or damaged hive may be raided by workers from other hives, especially when nectar flows in flowers are not abundant. Honeybees will also collect “honeydew,” the sweet fluid excreted by sap-feeding insects like Aphididae. (Adjare, 1990; Gonzalez et al., 1995; Percival, 1947; Sammataro and Avitabile, 1998)
- Sammataro, D., A. Avitabile. 1998. The Beekeeper's Handbook, 3rd edition. Ithaca, New York, USA: Comstock Publishing Associates.