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FAT BEES SKINNY BEES -a manual on honey bee nutrition for beekeepers-


A report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

By Doug Somerville Livestock Officer (Apiculture) NSW Department of Primary Industries, Goulburn


RIRDC Publication No 05/054

RIRDC Project No DAN-186A

A summary of this enlightening research publication is provided below or you may want to click the link and download the full publication. Very interesting reading...….

Executive Summary:

Some facts about bee nutrition-

  1. Nectar flows stimulate hygienic behaviour

  2. Total protein in pollen is the most important factor =  > 25% protein = excellent pollen < 20% protein = poor quality pollen

  3. Fats in pollen act as strong attractants to foraging bees

  4. Vitamins are unstable and deteriorate in stored pollen

  5. Beekeepers should seriously consider providing sugar syrup to bees as a means of manipulating bee behaviour

  6. If field pollen is scarce, the colony will cease rearing drone brood


  • Nectar consists of sucrose, water, some enzymes and minerals.

  • In ripening honey, moisture content is reduced to between 12-21%.

  • The colony will obtain most of its water requirement through nectar.

  • Honeys with high glucose (dextrose) levels (eg Canola) will candy more rapidly than honey with high fructose (laevulose) levels (eg Yellow Box –E.melliodora).

  • Dark honey generally has a richer mineral profile than light honey.



The principle compound of pollen is protein which is necessary for a honey bee colony’s survival and success, although the ratio between the different amino acids is very important.



  • 20-25% crude protein (CP %) in pollen is considered the minimum level.

  • With low amounts of pollen or pollen below 20% CP, the area of brood in the colony will be reduced.

  • 2 Kg pollen @30% CP = 3 Kg pollen @20% CP. The demand for pollen within an Australian bee hive could be as much as 100 Kg per year.

  • Protein is made up of amino acids. The 10 amino acids that are essential for honey bee nutrition are: Threonine, Valine, Methionine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Phenylalanine, Histidine, Lysine, Arginine and Tryptophan.

  • The main limiting amino acid in pollen collected by bees is Isoleucine. Much eucalypt pollen is significantly lower in this amino acid than in introduced species.



  • Fat refers to lipid which is composed of fatty acids, sterols and phospholipids.

  • Normally bees get sufficient fat from pollen.

  • The most important fat for brood rearing is cholesterol.

  • Fats in pollen act as strong attractants to foraging honey bees.

  • Eucalypt pollen has a very low fat level (1 – 2 %) when compared to Brassicas ( eg Canola, Wild Radish) that range from 6- 20 %.

  • One research project reports that linoleic acid in pollen inhibits growth of bacteria that causes European Foul Brood (EFB) and American Foul Brood (AFB).

  • A number of other fatty acids are also known to have anti-microbial properties.


  • Little is known about the mineral requirements of honey bees.

  • Excessive levels of minerals can limit brood rearing.


Vitamin B complex is essential for most insects including honey bees. Pollen is an excellent source of these vitamins.

Proudly Supported by the Sunshine Coast Council's Grants Program


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