A study published in American Naturalist, has found that bee larvae consume “microbial meat,” meaning that they don’t consume a strictly vegan diet.
Microbial meat is a name for the protein found in beneficial bacteria and fungi, which naturally occur and multiply in pollen. These microbes enrich the pollen with amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and the pollen is then consumed by the larvae, who use it as their main food source.
"Bees actually require the non-plant proteins of these pollen-borne symbionts to complete their growth and development—which makes them omnivores," said Shawn Steffan, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Service Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wisconsin.
The study, conducted by entomologists at the University of Wisconsin, Cornell University and Japan’s Hokkaido University, found this behavior in 14 species of bee, including both social and solitary families.
The significance of the study lies in the impact that these bacteria and fungi have on the health of bee populations. Because fungi are often controlled by farmers using fungicides, the researchers are now investigating how the use of fungicides on flowering crops may affect bee populations and contribute to overall hive health.