From Slurpees to smoothies, scientist aims to put bees on a diet

July 19, 2018
Category: Uncategorized

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An Alberta scientist is trying to put bees on a diet.

Many bees are often given a syrup as food after their honey is harvested for humans. But Danica Baines, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says right now the busy insects drink the equivalent of Slurpees when they should be snacking on fruit smoothies.

“The syrup consists just of sugar so you can imagine if you fed your children sugar all winter long what the outcome would be, versus if you fed them something like a fruit smoothie that had additional things like proteins and amino acids — a more complete meal,” she said on the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday.

The scientist is working in Lethbridge to develop new recipes that include proteins, vitamins and easily digestible sugars for the buzzing insects so essential to pollinating crops and plants.

Bees are also picky, and want to slurp the feed down smoothly, so they add jello to mimic the natural feed’s texture. 

Baines said making tasty, healthy dinners the bees will consume is important because they are facing a number of threats.

In Alberta — which was home to roughly 40 per cent of all Canadian colonies in 2017 — the bee population has been in recovery for more than a decade after a mite infestation wiped out thousands of colonies.

Recent harsh winters have caused the species to suffer locally, as well, according to a report from the Canadian Association of Professional ApiculturistsHealth Canada is also calling to phase out a common pesticide that it says harms the insect.

“We try to come up with recipes that really reflect nectar and pollen,” Baines said.

“We take the components that would normally be in nectar and pollen and try and combine them in a single food, so that the bees don’t have to work so hard to get the food they need.”

Her team is working this summer to develop food for leafcutting bees, a lesser known but important pollinator native to North America.

Baines says the leafcutters, often hired in batches by Canadian alfalfa farmers to pollinate their crops, are a solitary species and don’t form colonies like honey bees.

“Each bee is a little bit different in what they like to eat and how they like to eat it,” she said. “So each of our recipes reflects each bee’s preferences.”

The special diet helps the bees make it through the winter and could also be healthier, so they can reproduce and better resist disease and damage from pesticides.

If you are looking to help bees thrive, Baines recommends planting trees that bloom in the spring or summer, as well as wildflowers enjoyed by the insect, such as poppies or delphiniums.

  • Listen to the scientist’s full interview about bee diets:
Danica Baines from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada talks about the kinds of foods that best help bees survive. 5:51

With files from Kathryn Marlow and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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