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.
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.
Good points. Thanks.
They certainly do in my strawberry bed! They are all over the ripe berries, and are the only critters there. Each fruit they are on has a number of holes..
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?
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.
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.
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!
Are you sure it was Nosema and not honey bee dysentery? I suspect honey bee dysentery in light of all the berry juice.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I witnessed my honey bee’s landing on unadulterated fruit and drinking from it. I believe they are capable, especially during the dearth.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I do not think the mulberries will pose any problem.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Yup, they sure do. Here is a post that is related: “One for the road: bees with a buzz.”
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.
Was it drier or hotter this past summer? That could do it.
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.
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!
Yes, I see the honey bees feeding on ripe grapes but I don’t know who is starting to cut up the grape berries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Hi Rusty, I live next to a large apple orchard and I was wondering if the bees will go out and forage on the fallen apples rotting on the ground? I know I’ve seen plenty of yellowjackets doing this.
Yellowjackets seem to be into rotting fruit in a big way, but honey bees not so much. I see occasional ones in my fallen pears, but it is mostly yellowjackets and other wasps.
I often see bees feeding on raspberries. they seem to bite little holes in the berries and suck out the juice.
We get lots of bees in our garden on Calif central coast. I think there are wild hives in nearby oak trees but they could be domesticated. I’m concerned about my fruit rather than bees or their honey. I have a big table-grape vine that has just started to bear well; I’m willing to share but not to lose the whole crop. The variety is a cross between American and European, with very juicy grapes with thin skins in bunches up to 10 inches long. The grapes are sweet/tart when green, sweet when they start to turn red. Birds like them as well as bees, and last year I thought birds were the culprits when they started to develop holes and get eaten by the bees. This year on eBay I bought plastic netting bags made for produce–green so the birds might think the fruit unripe, with a large enough mesh (about 1/8 inch) for air and sunlight to get in. Turns out they discourage the birds but the bees go right in and shred the ripest grapes (sometimes all the sunny-side grapes in a bunch are shot while the shady-side green ones are intact). I consider the bags a partial success. The gadget that closes the bags is separate and awkward to put on; next year I plan to try large drawstring organza bags made for jewelry. The weave is quite fine and they are transparent enough so they should not affect ripening.
If your bees can fit through 1/8-inch mesh, they are not honey bees. Beekeepers use 1/8-inch mesh to keep the bees in or out of spaces and containers. However, there are lots of bees and wasps that can fit through that size. Generally, when I see fruit eaters, I think of wasps, but I suppose it could be small bees as well.
Thank you everybody! All great ideas on non-pesticide ways to keep fruit from being eaten by small flying critters!
I don’t want any of my bees to be pests. Bounce fabric softeners are known to repel bees. You might want to try those.
Another amazing use for dryer sheets! I wonder if the unscented sheets work as well as the scented? For that matter, it is clear that scent is the factor that repels them, but is it the obvious scent that we notice or the “unsmellable” scents that the bees notice?
The chemicals in Bounce®, fabric sheets I believe contains chemicals which interfere with insect neuro-networks. Most insects such as bees, wasps, etc. wisely avoid areas where they sense these sheets. I have also studied insects on my own for most of my life. I have observed them so this with my own eyes. Believe me or not, I had no political agenda. Was a teenager at the times of the below story.
I know that bees will tear into perfectly unblemished fruit because that is what me bees did when I had the hive completely blocked with just ripe fruit for them to eat. I had to move them when neighbor’s kids were throwing rocks at the hive. I had to cage a colony by putting it on plywood and stapling aluminum window screen around the hive. The bees had access to small fly of about 27 ft^3 and water to drink and fruit to eat. I put in uncut, fairly ripe persimmons and less than optimally ripe cherries. The girls had stripped down the cherries to the seed in less than 2 hours and the persimmons by the end of the day. They were ravenous. I watched Piranha behave similarly in the television.
It ended up being a week before I could move them. I had to feed a minimum of once a day. I got them moved (hidden) in the woods until I could find some one to give them to. They also filled a large super (brood box sized) full of fruit sourced bee vomit. I can’t say honey because state law says honey can only come from nectar and pollen. The bee vomit was very tasty, and I felt guilty for even taking a medium sized jar of it for myself. The hive was a bit hot for a month after (late summer dearth). Believe it or not, that was my experience at 16 years of age. I am blessed to be in a position to start to keep bees again without having to worry about neighbor kids disturbing the hive.
When the bees consume the sugar from the fruit rather than nectar do they produce similar honey? I’ve read that when bees consume sugar water the honey is not the same as when they consume nectar. I’m not sure if it’s a similar situation here.
Honey is defined as being made from the nectar of flowers. If the bees store other kinds of sweets, including syrup or fruit juice, it is not honey.
There was a bee that was coming inside last night bc it was attracted to the light. It fell to the ground and I managed to put it outside and when I woke up this morning she was still outside in the same place. I thought oh no she’s dead but then I blew on her. She moved so I put her in an elevated space and put some persimmon goo near her in case she was hungry. Her little tongue came out and started drinking the persimmon. After that she started rubbing her face and flew away. Was it dehydration that caused her to come inside initially or was something else wrong? I’m so glad the persimmon helped and she flew away.
There are many different reasons why the bee may have gone inside. Who know went wrong in her world?
Lol as much as I have seen things do in hard times out of pure desperation to get a bite of food I don’t doubt a bee picking a hole in the soft peel off fruit. (However) I have sat and watched bees eating figs. Figs are soft. They seem to (prefer) the fruit already opened up. However if times get hard enough they have not survived millions of years bye sitting waiting for something else to open an extra ripe fruit…. desperate times call for desperate measures. I have seen em eat figs berries pears apples mellons cantellopes and various other things. However I live in Alabama where when the dog days of summer hit 105F with our 89% humidity…. We’re probably lucky things aren’t trying to drink us for some refreshment ? I can’t say for sure what they are capable of poking holes in….. But I can say if they can take turns and eventually damage a piece of wood they should be able to take turns and poke a hole in an orange in a few hours. Seems logical. They are built to survive. Although it might not be a easy task which might be why they seem to prefer letting bigger things do the work when possible…. It’s not always possible. So desperate times call for desperate measures. Not always a yellow jacket around to poke a hole. But instead of everybody debating this topic for another 100 years….. Somebody sit and video a group of honey bees taking turns nibbling a hole in a piece of fruit….. Then it’s video evidence and even the hardest of heads can’t argue with that ? otherwise this debate will never be settled. Simple as that. I’ve sat and watched for myself just to see…. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn from watching nature for a few minutes. And just cuz I say I saw it doesn’t mean everybody will believe it. So I say go watch and learn for yourselves…. Never know you might get that video that ends the debate ? but 5 minutes of watching bees ain’t likely to do it lol. You gotta actually sit and watch for an actual period of time. Which most don’t have that luxury. But somebody out there does ?
We have a Gravenstein apple tree producing enormous amount of fruit to the point where we have a lot of fruit suddenly dropping, there are bees all over the apples that fall. Is it healthy for them to be consuming so much of the fallen apples?
It’s natural for them to be attracted to the juice, so I wouldn’t worry about it.
At a u-pick blueberry farm in Portland, Oregon this weekend, I saw masses of bees in the rows of heavily-fruited bushes. Though there were some wildflowers in bloom, mostly Queen Anne’s lace and cat’s ear, the bees were ignoring them in favor of the blueberry fruits. As I was picking, I saw individual bees repeat a strange behavior, landing on a blueberry that was facing the sun and rapidly “pawing” at one spot on the fruit, much like a dog frantically scratching at a door to be let out. They’d keep this up for maybe 30 seconds, then fly off to repeat on another berry. Though I never saw one actually break into the fruit this way, I did see a great many berries being hollowed out by bees (not wasps or yellowjackets) on the plants. I assume they wouldn’t be doing this behavior if it didn’t yield some benefit for the effort, so this might be another clue to how they get into the fruits, by finding weaknesses in the skins and tearing them open.
Or maybe they were collecting oils and resin. Were they honey bees?
I live in Western Washington where BlackBerry bushes abound. I have several Warré hives, so I collect the honey from those as comb. In one of the hives, there is comb honey that is dark and tastes exactly like blackberries. I’m certain it isn’t knotweed, and I believe it to be from BlackBerry juice that they converted to honey. We had a very hot summer so I think the late summer dearth caused the bees to get creative. Had this been in my Langstroth hives I never would have noticed because the honey would have mixed with all of the other honey during extraction. It’s the best honey I’ve ever eaten!
Yes, definitely honey bees. Are there oils and resin on blueberries? If so, you may be right.
I believe the surface of blueberries is resinous. It feels kind of waxy when you touch it.
How come nobody has come up with the idea that birds might be putting at least some of the holes in the grapes or other fruit? I have a couple grape vines and it is very true that the holes don’t start until the grapes are a quite mature. Personally I think the bees make some of the holes and birds do some and I do some. I make it a habit to grab some grapes every time when I walk by them. I know I tear some off sometimes a little of the grape get stuck to the little stalk or pedicel. That certainly attracts the bees.
Well I’m guess I’m extra lucky having my hives next to an orchard. Food for the girls in the spring, summer AND fall when the apples and peaches are left over. We sure get a lot of honey from just 5 hives.
Just commenting to subscribe to the comments, but I enjoyed re-reading this five-year-old post. I sure would not mind tasting some berry juice bee barf.
And I sure would not mind spending the day with you. You make me laugh (in a good way).