Inside: How dandelion pollen can be part of a healthy bee diet
A lot is written about how important dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are to the honey bee. Indeed, honey bees flock to dandelions both in the early spring and early fall. Although dandelions are known for being a mediocre food source for bees, they can be essential when little else is in bloom.
Dandelion pollen is missing some amino acids
The problem, it seems, is that dandelions are missing some of the amino acids honey bees need to manufacture proteins. You can think of amino acids like letters in the alphabet—you need all 26 letters if you’re going to form all the words. Likewise, a bee needs a full complement of the necessary amino acids if it is going to make all the proteins it needs to raise young bees.
Of the set of amino acids that bees need, dandelion pollen falls short of four: arginine, isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Researchers have found that honey bees fed dandelion pollen alone have low success at raising brood. In fact, some researchers found that honey bees fail to raise any brood when fed dandelion pollen alone.
Honey bees collect other pollen, too
Remember, dandelion pollen is not toxic, it’s just not complete. Potatoes are not toxic either, but if you ate only potatoes you’d be missing important parts of your diet.
Bees, like humans, need a varied diet from a number of sources to be healthy. Luckily, honey bees also collect other types of pollen that have other amino acids. Together, the different types of pollen provide everything the bees need.
The bees that were fed nothing but dandelion pollen illustrate what can happen if bees are fed a single pollen (monoculture) diet. Although some pollens are better sources than others, the best thing for the bees (or us) is to eat a wide variety of foods.
Honey Bee Suite