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When Flowers are Few, Wild Bees Rely on Nectar Alternative, Florida Researcher Finds

A native bee foraging on a moldy, nonflowering shrub.
Photo: Paul G. Johnson
A native bee foraging on a moldy, nonflowering shrub.

Bees often bring to mind images of large hives dripping with honey and buzzing with the common honey bee. But thousands of North American bee species live solitary lives gathering the nectar and pollen they need to survive. A new study by a University of Florida Ph.D. student found these lonely bees using innovative strategies to get the sugar they need when flowers are scarce.

Observing more than 40 wild bee species in California national park, Joan Meiners—a Ph.D. student at IFAS School of Natural Resources and Environment—found the wild bees turning to alternative fuel sources when they couldn't collect the nectar and pollen they need for energy and reproduction. 

That alternative fuel: honeydew, a sugar-rich secretion from tiny plant-eating insects that Meiners found the bees were eating as a stopgap measure to meet their energy needs. It's a strategy she says the bees may increasingly rely on in the face of climate change disrupting the rhythms of flowering and hibernation bees have evolved to follow.

Meiners joins Gulf Coast Live to talk about her research, how she came to understand why wild bees may come to use honeydew as food, and how disruptions to the bees natural rhythms may point to larger ecological stressors for the bees.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.
Julie Glenn is the host of Gulf Coast Live. She has been working in southwest Florida as a freelance writer since 2007, most recently as a regular columnist for the Naples Daily News. She began her broadcasting career in 1993 as a reporter/anchor/producer for a local CBS affiliate in Quincy, Illinois. After also working for the NBC affiliate, she decided to move to Parma, Italy where she earned her Master’s degree in communication from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Her undergraduate degree in Mass Communication is from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
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