We all know how addictive junk food can be, but do bees fall victim to the same temptations? Beekeepers in urban environments need to worry about what their bees are making honey from, otherwise they could end up jarring honeys made from processed sugars.
The good news is, bees have better self-control than people do. When natural foods are an option, bees usually go with the healthy choice, according to a new study published in the Journal of Urban Ecology.
There has been some reason for concern, however. For instance, in 2010, Brooklyn beekeeper Cerise Mayo was surprised when she opened her hives and found combs filled with bright red honey. She later found out the bees were making regular trips to a nearby maraschino cherry factory where they were collecting sugar syrup tinted with Red Dye No. 40.
But it turns out this was the exception rather than the rule, and Mayo's bees may only have turned to junk food when other natural sources became sparse. Researchers from North Carolina State University gathered worker honey bees from colonies in both urban and rural areas within 30 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina, some from colonies that were run by beekeepers and some that were wild. They studied them for their levels of carbon-13, an isotope only present in processed human foods.
Surprisingly, there was no evidence that the urban bees were dipping into processed goodies any more than rural bees were. That's good news. It means bees prefer real flower nectar so long as it's available. So in this scenario, the bees honey wasn't being made from old soda or anything gross like that.
"Rather than switching to human food sources, urban bees seem to be feeding on urban flowers or insect-produced honeydew," wrote the study's authors. "This suggests an important role for urban flowers and green spaces in maintaining healthy pollinator populations in cities."