Do People Eat Bees? (Wait, What??)

Do People Eat Bees?

Insects are a healthy and delicious snack in various parts of the world and are often even considered the food of the future since they are a basically inexhaustible resource that makes up more than half of all living things. Some insects seem a little bit too weird to eat, though, like bees with their fuzz and their stingers. Do people eat bees? 

Yes, bees are eaten in a lot of places. They are usually consumed in their immature stages – while they are still in their egg, as larvae (when they are shaped like white, roundworms), or pupae (when they already have a segmented body). Mature bees are edible, too, but are said not to taste as good, while the young bees that are eaten apparently have a nutty and smoky taste that some compare to peanuts or almonds. 

Mostly, people in Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and Mexico eat bees.

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In some African countries, a ‘brood comb‘ is served whole. This refers to a whole honeycomb, with larvae, pupae, and hones still in there, so that it not only tastes delicious but also contains a lot of protein and other nutrients. The larvae and pupae in these combs are usually drones, which beekeepers tend to remove since they have a propensity for getting mites. Since drones do not do the pollinating, eating brood combs has no effect on the pollination numbers. 

Researchers at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen have even experimented with various ways to prepare bee larvae, like turning them into mayonnaise or mixing them with honey and using them to sweeten granola. 

Is It Good or Bad for Bees When We Eat Honey? 

This is a polarising question. Even some vegans – people who avoid consuming any animal products like dairy, eggs, or gelatin – make exceptions for honey, since buying and eating honey supports beekeepers who in turn care for and protect these important pollinators. But is this true or is it just a marketing ploy? 

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Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that eating honey does not protect bees at all. On the one hand, it is important to keep in mind that honeybees are only one specific species of bee. Often, they are even an invasive species and compete with the local bee population.

Focusing one’s protection efforts just on honeybees is, in the end, not very useful for raising the population of bees at large or that of other pollinators like various other insects, bat, and birds.  

On the other hand, the honey industry has a whole host of problems, and taking honey from bees is by no means as simple as taking only the surplus product of what they would produce anyway.

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Honey is a source of nutrition for bees themselves. It is perfectly suited for their needs and gives them the energy to fly around all day collecting pollen. Beekeepers replace honey with a sugar substitute so that the bees now consume inferior food. This often results in bees dying of over-exhaustion, malnutrition, or illnesses that they contract as a result of their weakened immune system. 

Sometimes, a whole hive is killed with cyanide after the summer, because it is cheaper than keeping it alive during autumn and winter. Colonies are also often shipped around to pollinate specific crops. This does not only interrupt the bees’ hibernation, it can also lead to diseases being spread.

Lastly, breeding bees for productivity results in a gene pool that is much narrower than it used to be. 

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All in all, eating honey to save the bees is a simple reduction of a very complex problem. Luckily, there are companies that focus on producing ethical honey. It is also always recommended to buy local honey rather than from big brand names. 

Why Are Bees Fuzzy? 

Bees tend to not elicit the same disgusted reaction as other insects, and their furry, black-and-yellow fuzz is a big reason for that. But why would an animal that is too small to be petted properly even be so fluffy?

The reason is that their fuzzy body and legs provide a perfect surface for pollen to stick to. Other than that, they use their hair for thermoregulation and to detect vibration from the atmosphere. 

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.