24 July 2023
I received a this week, which led me down a rabbit..um...insect-hole of more research. Are bees really vegetarian wasps? It turns out that, while it is true that millions of years ago, some wasps (now “bees”) began collecting pollen for protein instead of meat (and discovered the benefits of collecting a plentiful source of food that doesn't fight back!), scientists have discovered that bees are actually omnivorous.
While most animals pilfer flowers for their nectar, bees specifically collect pollen for their larvae. Fermented microbes in pollen make up an important part of the bees' diet. The microbes function as an external rumen – much like the internal microbes in our own gut microbiome – in helping them to break down the nutrition in the pollen. So microbial “meat” is a necessary part of the bees' diet.
Some wasps eat pollen (there are 300 known types of “vegetarian” pollen wasps) and some bees eat meat ("carnivorous” tropical bees have been observed and some honeybees and bumble bees dabble in meat-eating). Perhaps nature does not intend us to live by hard and fast rules. It's clear that environmental changes necessitate evolution.
Just as flexitarian bees are not solely dependent on one food source, we too can benefit from embracing a more diverse and sustainable diet that supports both our health and the environment. If you have ever read Michael Pollan's (highly recommend young reader's edition), you'll know that much of the food in our Standard American Diet is comprised of the same few ingredients. When we focus on a variety of whole plant foods, we introduce heterogeneity that improves our health and protects the soil.
Rules may be helpful as guidelines, but sometimes we may need to loosen them or re-think them in order to survive and thrive. That's why my focuses on opportunities, not restriction. I'd love to hear how you are diversifying your diet, using a variety of colorful, flavorful, sustainable vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Bee Myth: Raising honeybees in your backyard may do more harm than good, since they compete for resources with the native population. North America's 4,000 native bee species are declining due to pesticides, habitat loss and climate change.
Things you can do to help native bees: