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, but I never did see them land on the mulberries.
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.