Honeybees eat pollen. It is their basic protein food. Honeybee workers mix pollen with honey to make “bee bread”. They feed this mixture to the immature bees as they develop into adults.
In the summer, adult workers live about seven weeks. There is a steady stream of immature bees developing to replace the old workers that die. The adult workers eat pollen when they emerge from their larval development. Scientists think that the pollen finishes the adult bee’s development.
During the first few weeks of the adult stage, workers stay in the nest. They feed bee bread to the immature bees. The workers also convert nectar from flowers into honey and beeswax. A colony of honeybees can produce about 70 pounds of honey every year. The workers store the honey to use as food during the winter.
A mature honeybee colony can contain as many as 80,000 workers. This large population demands an enormous supply of pollen. They also require an enormous supply of nectar for the honey and the wax.
During the last part of a worker’ life, she goes out of the colony to forage for pollen and nectar. The foraging workers make so many trips to get pollen that by the end of their lives, some workers have frayed wings.
The back legs of the honeybee workers have a section where they can carry balls of pollen. As the worker goes into the blooms to get the pollen, the hairs on her body pick up pollen too.
As the worker moves from one flower to another, she spreads pollen from one plant to another. The pollen enables the plants to develop. Beekeepers try to move their hives to areas where the bees can get the best pollen and nectar. Farmers want the beehives in their fields so the bees can pollinate the crops.
This process benefits both beekeepers and farmers. Honeybees add millions of dollars of value to crops in the United States every year. At the same time, the annual honey crop averages over a hundred million pounds.