Bees busily ferrying pollen from one cream-white almond blossom to another in California orchards this winter might get some of their zip from a new food called MegaBee: The Tucson Diet.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman created the research and development agreement that led to this new, convenient source of proteins, vitamins and minerals that bees need for good health. Bees can eat MegaBee as a meal or snack when days are too cold for venturing outside of their warm hive, for example, or when flowers — bearing pollen and nectar, the staple foods for adult bees — aren't yet in bloom.
Better nutrition might be a key to reversing the decline of honey bees, Apis mellifera, in the United States. A mostly mysterious colony collapse disorder is blamed for losses of once-thriving colonies, as are problems caused by mites, beetles, Africanized honey bees, diseases and pesticides.
DeGrandi-Hoffman, at the ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Ariz., sought the expertise of Gordon I. Wardell, entomologist and owner of S.A.F.E. R & D, LLC, in Tucson, to develop a new, nutritious food for bees. The resulting MegaBee has now been on the market for about six months. It's manufactured by Castle Dome Solutions, LLC, in Yuma, Ariz., and sold by Dadant & Sons, Inc., of Hamilton, Ill., which supplies honey producers, beekeepers and candlemakers.
Tests conducted in California by Wardell and ARS scientists in the winter of 2007 showed that bees ate MegaBee at about the same rate as natural pollen. But MegaBee-fed bees helped produce more brood, or young, than did their pollen-fed hivemates.
Ongoing research, in orchards and in laboratories at the Carl Hayden center, should reveal even more about bees' year-round nutrition needs.
Nutrition investigations, a special emphasis at the Carl Hayden laboratory, are part of a new, nationwide program of ARS-led scientific research on honey bee health.