Home » Reports »

Vita talk 03/02/22

Vita talk 03/02/22

Honeybee Nutrition

A talk by Seb Owen, Marketing Manager of Vita Europe

3rd February 2022, by Zoom. 22 attendees

Vita Bee Health is the world’s largest dedicated honeybee health company. They research, develop, manufacture and market a range of honeybee health treatments and products worldwide, with distribution to over 60 countries.

They are based in Basingstoke and have an apiary just under a mile away, where they carry out research and development for their product range. They also have projects around the world, furthering knowledge on bee health and new products.

Factors for CCD?

We do not have CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) in the UK but as a world-wide distributor, Vita is very much aware of the impact of this scenario in other countries. Currently, the causes of CCD are thought to be multifactorial. In no particular order, the following factors are probably the main contributors:

Factors for CCD


Seb showed the results of an analysis of pollen in France. The list of pesticide residues is staggering!

  • Coumaphos (organo-chlorine pesticide)
  • Cyprodinil (fungicide)
  • Fenpropathrine (synthetic pyrethroid)
  • Tau Fluvalinate (synthetic pyrethroid, used to control Varroa)
  • Iprodione (fungicide)
  • Piperonyl butoxide (synergist component of pesticide formulations)
  • Propiconazole (fungicide)
  • Pyrimethanil (fungicide)
  • Amitraz (Varroa treatment) ……… The list goes on. No wonder insects are in trouble.

Honey Production – Size Matters

It has been established over many years that the size of a honeybee colony really does have a marked effect on the potential for honey production. The bigger the colony, the higher the proportion of foraging bees compared to brood and nurse bees.

Bees’ Nutritional Requirements

Bees take only four substances into the hive: nectar, pollen, water and propolis. The first three have to supply All the nutritional requirements of the colony.

Honeybee nutrition
Honeybee nutrients

The Honeybee Gut

The honeybee gut, like many other insects, has a lining in the mid-gut called the peritrophic membrane. This is a gelatinous envelope of cells that produce and release the digestive enzymes which break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates to simpler constituents. These can then be absorbed through the wall of the gut and carried in solution to the haemolymph. The peritrophic membrane ensures the abrasive pollen grains are not in direct contact with the delicate gut wall.

Young bees up to two weeks old are very active in feeding on pollen to produce protein for conversion into royal jelly and brood food. They also need to build up their own fat bodies because, as Seb pointed out, bees lose the peritrophic membrane at around 2 weeks old. This means they are no longer able to convert pollen to protein. However, soluble protein material such as amino acids can still be absorbed by the bees. This is the basis for many enhanced nutritional products.


About 60% of sugars come from nectar, the remaining 40% coming from the pollen which is moistened with honey to make it sticky.


Nutritional goals

The processing of sugars is straight forward, and as bees are not able to store much sugar in their bodies the mechanism of honey comb storage has evolved. They also produce wax and body fat (vitellogenin) from sugars. The fat is stored in the fat bodies, especially in the autumn.

The metabolism of pollen, on the other hand, is more complex. The protein material of pollen is initially broken down into amino acids, which can be described as the building blocks of all proteins. There are 22 amino acids which can be joined together in an almost unlimited number of ways to synthesize the proteins that make the tissues and enzymes of the body.

However, in order to make complex proteins efficiently there needs to be an excess of all the amino acids necessary for any particular protein. Any shortage will lead to reduced efficiency, impacting on the wellbeing of the bees. Most amino acids can be created from basic raw materials but, in the case of honeybees, there are ten amino acids that cannot be synthesized and MUST be supplied in the food. These are called essential amino acids.

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids

The percentages indicate how much of each essential amino acid is required in the diet. If insufficient, then protein and enzyme production will be sub-optimal, impinging on bee health.

The Bees’ Workaround

To get round this problem the bees visit a wide range of plants to improve the variety of pollens brought into the hive. As a rough guide, 6-8 different pollens at any one time will give a reasonable amino acid balance. Deficiencies may lead to ‘pollen blocking’. Intensive agriculture and monoculture will lead to poor bee health through lack of variety.

A colony feeding on high quality protein may use 40kg of pollen to supply their needs, but a colony with only low-quality pollen available may need as much as 65kg. More work for less benefit.

Vita Bee Health Annual Nutritional Protocol

The three products in the Vita range are designed to provide an all-year-round nutrition protocol.

  • Vitafeed power accelerates colony build-up in spring
  • Vitafeed nutri boosts colony strength and productivity during the honey flow
  • Vitafeed patty strengthens bees in preparation for winter

Vita’s Product Range

  • For Varroa control there is Apiguard, Apistan, Bee Gym and Bee Gym Slim
  • For foul brood there are Foulbrood Diagnostics
  • For swarm there are Swarm Attractant Wipes
  • For protection against robbing there is HiveGate
  • For mite monitoring there is VarroaCheck

Descriptions of all these products are available at Vita-europe.com/beehealth/ and can be obtained at most major beekeeping suppliers.

Our thanks to Seb for explaining bee nutrition in such detail. Protein is the key to improved bee health! Anyone wanting to know more about bee anatomy and physiology should read the text books covering Module 5 of the BBKA modular exams.