Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bee Junk Food

Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Bees are in enough trouble with fragmentation, pesticides and colony collapse syndrome.  It's enough to make a bee blue.  Now they have to deal with junk food and it is discoloring their honey. reported that honey producers in France began harvesting honey colored blue to green.  It can't be sold as it doesn't meet the country's standards for color of honey, which has to range from clear to brown.  It turns out that the bees had developed a sweet tooth for M&Ms!

A nearby biogas company processes waste from an M&Ms company.  The brightly colored material apparently appealed to the bee's aesthetic sense, especially after a harsh winter reduced their normal nectar sources.  The company is now storing the M&Ms waste in airtight containers, driving the bees back to nature.

The beekeepers are now watching the hives to look for any adverse effects on the larvae that are feeding on the blue honey.  Mars Inc. isn't commenting and everyone expects the color problem to be solved.  So is it?

Bee keepers in coastal areas of North Carolina have experienced the problem of blue honey for years and are still arguing about the cause.  One theory was that the bees were getting juice from huckleberries which are common in the area.  Others blamed the berries of kudzu or southern leatherwood.  It turns out that none of these "obvious" causes are correct.

Professor John Ambrose, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, studied the problem in the 1970s.  The bee doesn't have mouth parts strong enough to penetrate the skin of these berries and the berry juices are colored white or pink.  He went on to study the bees load on the return to the hive.

Bees have a honey stomach, an organ in which they transport nectar on the way back home.  It extracts this nectar as fuel for its trip and on arrival back at the hive, younger "house bees" deposit the remainder into the cells where it becomes honey.

Ambrose extracted the nectar from the honey stomach of bees heading to the hive and found that they didn't have any blue color.  On the other hand, those leaving the hive had blue honey in their stomach.  The blue color was created in the hive!

Since then he has determined that the flowers in the coastal areas which noticed blue honey have a higher aluminum content.  The increased aluminum concentration combined with the stomach acid of the house bees is responsible for the blue honey.  Not that all the bee keepers are buying that theory.

Now what is this?
  • It was found at the Watershed Center
  • Neither plant nor animal
  • It is edible if you cook it quickly
  • It will stain your fingers black
  • Look quick as it autodigests a few hours after you pick it
  • Coming to the blog next week