Despite a lack of flowers in ever-developing urban areas, city bees have surprised researchers with their diet preference by sticking to a nectar-based diet and steering clear of processed sugar.
Researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU) collected worker honey bees from 39 colonies in rural and urban sites – 24 of which were managed by beekeepers, while 15 were wild. They analysed carbon isotops in the bees to determine what percentage of their diet came from processed sugars – like table sugar and corn syrup – rather than flower nectar.
Clint Penick, a postdoctoral researcher from NCSU, said: “We wanted to know if there are enough flowers in urban areas to support bee populations, or if bees are turning to human sugar resources.”
They found that urban bees did not rely on processed sugar, however domesticated bees did show evidence of consuming more processed sugar than feral bees in both environments, due to keepers supplementing their diet.
“Basically, bees are relying on flowers in cities and are not turning to human foods to supplement their diet,” Penick says. “This is good news for urban beekeepers. The honey in their hives is mostly coming from flower nectar and not old soda, which is what we originally guessed.”