"Honey bees are vegetarians. Nectar and pollen collected from flowering plants are the entrees on their dinner plates. Bees harvest the nectar and convert the sugary liquid to honey, the insects’ primary source of carbohydrates. Honey provides the bees with the energy for flight, colony maintenance, and general daily activities.
Pollen, often called “bee bread,” is the bees’ main source of protein. Pollen also provides the bees with fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. The protein in pollen is necessary for hive growth and young bee development.
Depending on the season, weather, and availability of nectar- and pollen-bearing blossoms, the size of a honey bee colony varies from 10,000 to 100,000 bees. A typical size colony, made up of about 20,000 bees, collects about 125 pounds of pollen per year.1 Bees carry the pollen in specialized structures on their hind legs called “pollen baskets,” or corbiculae (meaning “little baskets” in Latin). A honey bee can bring back to the colony a pollen load that weighs about 35 percent of its body weight.
In a single day, one worker bee makes 12 or more trips from the hive, visiting several thousand flowers. On these foraging trips, the bee can travel as far as two to five miles from the hive. Although honey bees collect pollen from a variety of flowers, a bee limits itself to one plant species per trip, gathering one kind of pollen.
Honey bees are not native to the New World. Most crops grown in the U.S. aren’t New World natives either. Both the crops and the bees evolved together in other areas of the globe, and were brought here by European settlers. Information suggests that the first honey bee colonies arrived in the Colony of Virginia from England early in 1622.
Today, the commercial production of more than 90 crops relies on bee pollination. Of the approximately 3,600 bee species that live in the U.S., the European honey bee2 (scientific name Apis mellifera) is the most common pollinator, making it the most important bee to domestic agriculture. About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds, to name just a few. Without the industrious honey bee, American dinner plates would look quite bare."
"One out of every three bites of food in the United States depends on honey bees and other pollinators. Honey bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. Managed honey bees are important to American agriculture because they pollinate a wide variety of crops, contributing to food diversity, security and profitability."
Natural Resources Conservation Service