Do honey bees eat fruit?

The short answer is yes. Honey bees, especially in a nectar dearth, find ripe fruit very much to their liking. They have been known to feast on plums, peaches, grapes, apples, figs, and pears. But the issue that causes all the disagreement among beekeepers is whether honey bees will actually drill a hole in a fruit or if they simply use pre-existing breaks in the skin created by a wasp, stink bug, beetle, bird, or some other creature.

I have followed long threads on BeeSource, GardenWeb, and some other forums containing heated debates on whether honey bees are even capable of breaking the skin of fruits. Some beekeepers have placed grapes in a hive, or smeared them with honey, only to find the grapes still intact once the honey was gone. One person found the grapes propolized to the frames.

Certainly honey bees like their fruit very ripe. Fruit is sweet when slightly overripe, but more important in the bee world, it emits a fragrance that the bees can find. With an odor to follow, it is easier for honey bees to pinpoint a source of food, especially one that doesn’t look like a flower. Along with the aroma, however, comes a disintegration of the skin. It certainly isn’t difficult to puncture an overripe peach or pear, although grapes can be trickier due to a tougher exterior.

This subject occurred to me yesterday as I was picking mulberries. Our summer dearth is deep this year, and the bees are everywhere searching and scavenging. The mulberry tree has lots of fruit, some of it overripe, and the honey bees where circling above it and through it, no doubt following the odor. Later in the day, I discovered honey bees slurping overripe blackberries.

What I found amusing in the the forum posts was the existence of two distinct camps. The orchard keepers were saying honey bees drilled the fruit and beekeepers were (as usual) defending their little charges saying they are not even capable of breaching the skin of fruits.

As much as I like to defend honey bees, I find this a little hard to believe. Shown below is a photo of an entrance reducer that was an obvious inconvenience to my bees. When I put it in, it was new and freshly painted. About two months later, when I heard skritching inside the hive, I removed the reducer to find it virtually destroyed. Now tell me that bees that can decommission a piece of wood can’t get through an overripe plum.

Furthermore, we know that honey bees bite when an enemy is too small to sting. Certainly if they can penetrate the cuticle of a wax moth larva, they can also bite through a tender overripe fruit skin.

Then too, we have all seen robbing honey bees tear roughly through capped honey combs, leaving ragged edges and piles of debris. Honey bees aren’t nearly as delicate as some would like us to believe. Although I personally have not seen a honey bee puncture a fruit, I do not doubt those who say they have.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Munched away, paint and all.
Tougher than fruit skin.

Comments

Glen Buschmann
Reply

Don’t know, but I’m in your camp, and that photo looks mighty convincing. Whole lot of other bees don’t have any trouble with biting, from nectar-robbing bumbles cutting into flowers, to “stingless” bees that bite in self defense, to leaf-cutters chopping leaves for their nests etc etc.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Glen,

Good points. Thanks.

cgrey8
Reply

The subject you didn’t touch on is if fruit is eaten, is how does it set with them? Are they OK with it?
Does it give them dysentery?

Do they store it or is fruit ONLY eaten in a dearth and thus what they eat is being consumed, not stored?

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

I don’t think they eat enough of it to make much of a difference. Certainly fruit has lots of fiber which could cause honey bee dysentery if they ate lots, but I think it’s just an occasional thing that happens in a nectar dearth. Summer dearths coincide with ripe fruits, so it’s like having the stars in alignment I suppose. However, I’ve heard many times that if a colony eats enough purple berries (such as elderberries or blueberries) the honey will be purple. I don’t think I believe this, though, because when I squash a blueberry, for example, the insides look green to me, and I can’t imagine the bees would eat the skin.

Ettamarie Peterson
Reply

They do chew wood and fiber board and cardboard but over long periods of time so I am still not convinced they break open fruit. I think they wait until it is cracked first. No scientific evidence, just opinion for now.

Oh, The way to remember queen colors is start with one and 6 and use the first letter of each word of this sentence Will you raise good bees. W, Y, R, G, B or White, yellow, red, green, blue.

Rusty
Reply

Ettamarie,

Fair enough.

Gary Rondeau
Reply

Hi Rusty,
Last year I kept my bees in a location that was loaded with blackberries — common in the PNW from Washington to California. However in this location, that was ALL there was, and when the honey dearth in August arrived with a vengence, all there was left were blackberry pie on the vines cooking in the sun. The bees made “blackberry syrup” out of those berries. The honey was unusual, deliciously berry flavored, and very purple. Those two colonies did not fare well over the winter. One succumbed to yellowjacket predation, the other ended up with a bad case of nosema and then bit the dust in a late season cold snap. I was never thrilled with the location of the hives — just too exposed, and I have no idea if the berry juice honey was part of the reason for the nosema problems — I doubt it. Bees that have nothing else but berry juice to harvest are too stressed for my taste, so I haven’t been back to that location. But the honey was quite exraordinary!

Rusty
Reply

Gary,

Are you sure it was Nosema and not honey bee dysentery? I suspect honey bee dysentery in light of all the berry juice.

boyd young
Reply

If I am remembering correctly, when reading “ABC & XYZ OF BEE CULTURE” there was a section on this subject. The conclusion was that after extensive testing, bees would not consume, pull fruit juice, etc. from sound fruit. Once the peel was damaged, then all bets were off.

Nancy Celani Baker
Reply

Last winter when we were looking at buying our old farmhouse I found a pile of pears that had dropped off the tree. Turns out these are ‘hard’ pears or ‘winter’ pears because they never soften on the tree. You pick them when they start to color up and store them. They ripen slowly off the tree, and can last through Christmas. The pears were almost totally dried, but each one had a hole in it and I saw many bees going in and out. I looked at one of the pears and it was almost completely hollowed out. On nice days there was always activity at those pears. After the Polar Vortex struck though, I didn’t see any more bees around the pears.

Muddyvalley
Reply

One of my hives that I inspected the other day had a section of dark red “honey” that on tasting, tasted just like blackberry. The question I have, is that mixed with other nectar to make honey, or are they making blackberry juice concentrate?

Rusty
Reply

Muddy,

By definition, honey is made by bees from nectar collected from flowers. So it seems juice collected from fruit, processed, and dried by bees isn’t actually honey. Still, if you have just a small section of processed fruit juice, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The bees, after all, didn’t read the definition so they are allowed a little latitude, especially if they decided on the source themselves and it wasn’t fed to them.

Whether they mix it with nectar in any individual cell, I don’t know.

Renaldo
Reply

Here, they hit the “Reliance” grapes first. Early ripening, high sugar, seedles grape. Then they went to the “Canadice”. Another high sugar, seedless grape which ripens next. When I see a bee butt sticking out of a round hole in a grape, I think that just maybe, she did that herself. When I see twenty of them, I think it’s even more likely. When they went after the “Interlaken”, I picked all the table grapes. They have left the dark skinned grapes alone so far. The red wine grapes are at 20/21 brix as of yesterday. That’s fairly high sugar, would go 11 percent alcohol in the wine if finished dry. Want 22 Brix or a little better for the crush. All of our “stuff” is grown for our own use. With 90 plus degree days this week, I think the grapes will come off Saturday. WAY early for southern Oregon. There is no doubt in my little mind that our bees eat/drink grape juice on the vine, as it were. Might get 8 or 10 gallons of wine this year. It will probably be pretty bad, but we wil just have to choke it down next summer. Yellow Jackets (devil’s spawn) are not nearly as selective as the bees.

Rusty
Reply

Wow, very interesting. It’s amazing what different people see and how it affects their perception . . . sounds like honey bees will bore right through a grape.

Gary Rondeau
Reply

Rusty, good point that it certainly could have been bee dysentery. In every case where I have looked at bees with the microscope given the conditions where they are defecating all over the frames, I have found nosema… BUT, I didn’t check this time and there was all that berry juice.

Curious if you have ever run into a case of dysentery where your were sure that there wasn’t nosema present? I’ve certainly seen the opposite — nosema when no dysentery.

Rusty
Reply

Gary,

Only twice. Once I was sure it was Nosema, but there wasn’t a spore in sight. The other time I was pretty sure it was dysentery because they had acquired some really dark honey, almost like chocolate, and I had left it on over the winter. Mistake.

Thom
Reply

I have a mango tree and this year a lot are falling to the ground. The bees are having a feast with the ripe mangoes.

Lyn
Reply

Hi Rusty!

You fail to mention something that I have noticed in the past, that honey bees really like a little nip sometimes! I find them going after anything that is fermenting, and that would apply to the overripe fruit as well. They’re as bad as yellow jackets to dive into my glass of wine. Wondered if you’d noticed that?

Love your blog! I read every one of them, and re-post to my club’s Facebook page. Thanks so much for your knowledge.

Lyn

Shreve
Reply

I witnessed my honey bee’s landing on unadulterated fruit and drinking from it. I believe they are capable, especially during the dearth.

Myrna Warren
Reply

I made muscadine jelly and put the hulls strained from the jelly out for our bees and they suck all the juice (with lots of sugar) out of them.

Loren
Reply

Mid January here in San Carlos, Mexico and bees about the size and look of honey bees are all over my oranges.They make a hole in the skin about 3/8 inch in diameter (I haven’t actually witnessed them doing this but there are several new ones every day) and then 2 or 3 work at feeding on the contents; taking our up to half of the volume. In a day or 2 the orange drops and begins to rot.

Rusty
Reply

Loren,

I don’t believe a honey bee could drill a 3/8-inch hole through an orange. Maybe something else is making the holes and the honey bees are using them. Do you have a photo of these bees?

Ann
Reply

Thanks! This was very helpful. We are first-time beekeepers and have placed our hives near a wild grapevine and a mulberry tree. One of the hives is close enough to the tree that quite a few mulberries will fall onto the hive. Do you think this will be a problem? The hives are on up on blocks on a concrete pad.

Rusty
Reply

Ann,

I do not think the mulberries will pose any problem.

jaelynn2009
Reply

I have a grape vine in my back yard and have actually witnessed the bees sticking their faces into the fruit and the fruit just shribbles up into a lil hard raisin like shell!! Lol its so funny because one of them caught me off guard while I was picking grapes!! But how do I pick them before they get to them because they seem to swarm right before they ripen!! I’ve tried everything to beat them to the grapes!! The lil bugers just suck all the grapes dry!!

Brenda
Reply

Today I saw a honey bee pierce the skin of a very ripe plum on a tree to slurp the juice. I’ve never seen that before.

Sharon
Reply

Honeybees eating fallen fruit that has already been attacked by birds or wasps is old hat, but this is the first year I’ve seen them going after unblemished plums that are still hanging on the tree.

I saw some bees flying in and out around a Santa Rosa plum tree that was just coming in. I watched as one crawled around on a plum, then began working to break through the skin to get to the fruit. Since this is the first year I’ve witnessed this, I’m wondering if it’s a new behavior or an old one that I’ve just missed noticing for years.

Sharon
Reply

Perhaps I should have added… This is in the Sacramento, California area where we are in severe drought conditions. However, there is a bowl of water available outside at all times where I’ve seen bees drink.

Rusty
Reply

Sharon,

The drought means few nectar-containing flowers are available. I’m sure the plums are being used as a sugar substitute. Interesting how bees adapt to the conditions.

David
Reply

I followed this from Google as I was curious. I have a huge pear tree in my backyard, one that was allowed to go wild before we purchased our house. I noticed that when the pears fell, they were pretty soon covered in honey bees and yellowjackets. The HB’s defended their fruit pretty well BTW.

A house a block or so away has some hives and wanted to know of where they were getting this pear nectar (guess it makes good honey). He asked at a BBQ for the neighborhood, turns out I’m the only one within a mile that has pear trees. *side note* I use absolutely no pesticides. My yard is a wildlife and insect haven within the city. Drawback is wormy pears. Hehe.

Bit since I’m allergic to bees, I would clean the fruit up quickly. We made a deal though, leave the fruit for them to make enough food for winter so he can harvest more honey. I get a gallon in the fall from him now. So it works out. 😉

My question though is, do they get drunk? I have noticed a few of these little guys fly off and bounce into the posts for the porch, fly into clothing hanging out to dry, and into the walls. Watching them, it seems to be the overly ripe (very mushy and brown pulp) that these ones are mostly attracted to.

So, do they get drunk from the fermentation?

Fred Heim
Reply

We are in Mid Minnesota. A beekeeper brings his hives to our backyard when they are done pollinating apples, they spend the summer enjoying the good life behind our 1/2 acre vineyard, Been doing this for several years. This year something new. For the past several days the honeybees are all over the grapes. The sugar content is approaching 20 Brix so is getting fairly high. We often get yellow jackets and white faced hornets feeding on the grapes, but this is the first year we have had honeybees feeding on the grapes. Called the beekeeper and he will watch for odd colored/flavored honey. He had never seen honeybees feeding on grapes before.

Rusty
Reply

Fred,

Was it drier or hotter this past summer? That could do it.

Fred Heim
Reply

Actually, this summer was what I would call nearly perfect. Only a couple of days hit 90. rain came about when we needed it. Last year was a poor year for honey production here, as the rain came just at the wrong times. All crops here grew quite well this summer. We had a pretty good supply of white clover, currently the goldenrod is available.
Odd.
Fred

Fred Heim
Reply

It is now early October and the bees have pretty much left the grapes. They are still buzzing around the hives. We will find out later whether we have grape flavored honey!

Fred

luie
Reply

Yes, I see the honey bees feeding on ripe grapes but I don’t know who is starting to cut up the grape berries.

Dave in San Juan Capistrano
Reply

Bees are eating my nectarines. They are just now ripening. I was inspecting the fruit and watching about 300 bees eating fruit on my tree. On one piece of fruit where they had a small hole I switch them away and watch them land on the piece of fruit next to it. There were three B’s and no holes in the fruit. I watched as one be nibbled a tiny hole in the skin. As soon as it was evident that it had broken through the other two bees got their head in there and all three became very agitated. I was fascinated so I stood and watched as other bees came and also penetrated the fruit and began consuming the fruit. Before I walked away about 20 bees were consuming the single piece of fruit. I was dismayed at the loss of the fruit. I was more upset that my Anna apple tree, which is about 4 feet away, is full of blossoms and not a bee is on that tree. A hundred bees eating mature fruit while the apple blossoms are not being pollinated.

Is there a solution.

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

Are you absolutely sure they are bees and not wasps? Your description sounds exactly like wasps, and most times bees are unable to drill holes through fruit skin. Also, wasps are not pollinators so they would not be interested whatsoever in the apple blossoms. The solution depends on what they are.

Fred Heim
Reply

Last year (2015) we say a LOT of honeybees on our grapes. The beehives were located only about 50 feet or less from the nearest row of grapes. Often several bees on one cluster of grapes.

This was fairly late in the season, Most of the grapes had been picked, so we left well enough alone. Frankly, we were hoping for some grape flavored honey! Alas it was not to be, did not notice any grape flavors.

One thing for sure, the bees did feast on the grapes, not just scavenge already damaged fruit.
I am interested to see if this is repeated in 2016. The bees this year are new bees, so there should not be any memory of last year’s feast.

I will keep you posted.
Fred

Rusty
Reply

Fred,

Yes, keep me posted. I find this an interesting topic because so many of the so-called experts say honey bees won’t pierce fruit, but the folks with orchards say they do.

Janene
Reply

My ripe peaches are being inundated with honey bees. They are definitely honey bees! No question. They are eating little holes in the peaches, which then fall off the tree and finishing off the fruit that falls on the ground. I don’t mind sharing, but they are eating the entire crop! Any suggestions on how to naturally get rid of them?

Rusty
Reply

Janene,

You could try putting out some sugar syrup for them, away from the trees. A few drops of peppermint oil or anise oil will help them find it. The bowl should have stones or marbles so the bees have a place to stand without drowning.

Charlie
Reply

First year I’ve had bee damage on peaches at full ripe. Do believe they need a break or tiny hole in the skin to get started on ripe fruit. Sure they’re some type of honey bees desperate for food. No pollen carried on back legs,but they do sting leaving the stinger stuck in your finger. They are not wasps.

khaleeb
Reply

I have seen more than once bees feeding on my sugar apples. It is a west indian fruit that is loaded with sugar. I have seen bees drinking soda from a half empty can feeding on ripe mangos.

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