bee forage

Dandelion pollen: it’s not perfect but it sure helps

Dandelion pollen is not perfect, but it's pretty good. Pixabay

Dandelion pollen does not contain all the essential amino acids, but can be an important part of the honey bee diet.

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


Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


  • Do you have any ideal of the pollen content of Colts Foot. Bees forage heavily on Colts Foot early in the year and store a good bit of it. I have tried to find amino acid content and overall protein content and cannot seem to find anything. Any thoughts?

    In my neck of the woods the first pollen source is the common alder, which I think is a low quality protein source as it is wind pollinated. But the colts foot the bees hit hard and fast just after the alder, followed by pussy willow, then red maple. At that point there are multiple pollen sources for the bees to feed on.

    • Wow, Jeff, colts foot isn’t one of those plants that people run out and analyze all the time. I’ll have a look around but I doubt there’s a lot of research on it.

  • I don’t know anything about Colts Foot, but the bees in our backyard are bringing in pollen all over the place — a rainbow of pollen. Yellow, orange, green, blue, purple. At least that’s what my colour blind eyes tell me. Foraging in an urban environment, my guess is they’re getting it from crocuses and other early-blooming planted flowers. The bees show little interest in the pollen patties I’ve given them.

    What I’m more concerned about is reversing our boxes too early. I know the earlier the better is often a steadfast rule, but I don’t know. I still see plenty of bees in the bottom boxes of all my hives. I wouldn’t want to split up the brood nest.

    Still no dandelions around here. Maple buds are just starting to show. I looked around too much at flowers on the ground last year. I hardly ever looked up into the trees. Do regular nothing fancy maples trees have flowers that attract bees? If so, I think our bees will do alright. This city is packed with maple trees and other coniferous trees.

    I wish I could stay home and watch them all day.

  • A extract from Australian thesis: “Fatty acid composition of pollen and the effect of two dominant fatty acids in pollen and flour diets of longevity and nutritional composition of honey bees”.

    There have been relatively few studies on honey bee longevity following the consumption by bees of pollen from different species (containing different protein and lipid levels). A few studies on longevity exist where artificial diets have been tested (Winston et al. 1983). Schmidt et al. (1989) found that the longevity of bees fed pollen from wind-pollinated species was less than those fed sugar-only diets (no protein), perhaps indicating the absence of pollen attractants, presence of pollen deterrents, toxic compounds (e.g. in Typha latifolia) or poor nutrients balance. Honey bees fed other pollen had increased longevity. For example, bees feed dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) pollen had life-spans of 6.4 days greater than diets containing only sugar, whilst bees fed from Rubus sp., Populus sp1 and sp2 had life-spans of 28.4, 38.0 and 28.6 days greater than sugar controls, respectively. These differences were significantly correlated with the amount of pollen consumed, protein concentration of the pollen and the total amount of pollen protein consumed (Schmidt et al. 1987).

    Then as Rusty said, the best thing for the bees is to eat a wide variety of foods.

  • I leave as many dandelions on my yard then cut them when they are turning to seed… there’s no ‘goodness’ at that point anyway. IOW in early spring I don’t cut my lawn anyway so the bees can have a ‘hayday’ at my ‘lions’. 😉
    I have other flowers that bees love in my garden like bee balm, crocus, sedum, etc.

  • Even though dandelions are not a great food source for honey bees, I think they are essential for the health of the bee population. Pre 2,4-D and glyphosate, dandelions thrived in parks, along roads, vacant lots, and even suburban lawns. Let’s face it they are (were) tenacious. Now spring brings the strong scent of 2,4-D and there is nary a dandelion in sight. A holistic health practitioner might prescribe dandelion tea to replace trace elements like magnesium and zinc or for detox. So maybe think of dandelions as spring detox after a long cooped up winter. It’s worth study to determine the importance dandelions in the ecosystem and in turn bee health. An analysis of trace elements present in honey from the 1970 or 1980’s and honey post dandelion extermination (now) could provide such insight. See Nat Geo Documentary: Zombie Alligators of Lake Griffin. This film illustrates the importance of trace elements role in a healthy ecosystem.

  • I live in central Florida and have a wildlife habitat. The city gave me a hard time when I let my shepherd’s needles go to seed in the fall. Most folks turn their heads up at shepherd’s needle because they “look too scraggly” and their seeds are hitch hikers, but when they really got old and seedy I went out one day to find an amazing sight: The bees had gone INSANE for it! There were bees crawling on top of other bees and bees hovering on the air just above it. There was no pollen at this point…I supposed some kind of resin on the seeds, but I really don’t know. Whatever it was, they could not get enough of it. It’s one of those plants that will happily show up on it’s own, but no one ever wants. It’s a shame really.

  • I also have shepherd’s needle loving bees. they aren’t /my/ bees, but the local bees I see won’t take any of my salvia or verbena, only the shepards needle. I thought at first that my cultivated flowers might have pesticide leftovers from the nursery, but then they had leaf tunnelers, so I don’t think they are avoiding any pesticide. I just can’t figure out why they are such picky eaters.