Do Bees Get Drunk on Pollen? An In-Depth Look

So why do some of the bees in the hive run into trees, get lost, walk around in circles, or just can’t fly? Why do bees act like they’re drunk?

As a beekeeper, you may have noticed your bees acting a bit strange after gorging on pollen. They seem to stumble and stagger back to the hive. This unusual behavior has led many to wonder – can bees really get drunk on pollen? In this article, we’ll explore the science behind bee intoxication and whether pollen plays a role.

A Quick Refresher on Bees and Pollen

Before we dive in, let’s go over some bee basics Pollen is a crucial protein source for bees Worker bees gather pollen by brushing against flowers. The pollen sticks to the bees’ hairy bodies and legs. At the hive, they pack the pollen into cells for storage and feeding.

Pollen provides bees with amino acids and other nutrients they need to grow and develop. Young nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen to produce the protein-rich royal jelly they use to feed larvae. Forager bees also eat pollen to sustain their energy levels during long flights between flowers.

What Causes Bees to Become Intoxicated?

The short answer – bees can absolutely get drunk! But it’s not the pollen that causes it. Bees get intoxicated from drinking fermented nectar containing ethanol alcohol.

Here’s a quick science lesson on how it happens

  • Nectar contains sugars like sucrose and fructose.

  • Yeasts present on flowers or bees interact with these sugars and convert them into ethanol through the process of fermentation This is the same way alcoholic drinks like wine and beer are produced

  • Bees ingest this alcoholic nectar and become impaired, just as humans do when drinking alcohol.

What Are the Signs of a Drunk Bee?

You may notice some odd bee behaviors that indicate intoxication:

  • Flying in loops and crashing into objects

  • Stumbling, falling over or laying on their backs

  • Being rejected by guard bees at the hive entrance

  • General lack of coordination and sloppiness

  • Aggressive behavior (in some species)

  • Wiggling legs while upside down, unable to right themselves

In severe cases, bees may become completely immobilized by intoxication.

What Conditions Promote Fermented Nectar?

Two key factors influence nectar fermentation:

Moisture – High humidity or frequent rain increases water content in nectar, allowing yeasts to thrive.

Temperature – Warmer weather accelerates the fermentation process. Ideal conditions are approximately 70-100°F.

When you see these conditions, be alert for intoxicated bees returning from pollen foraging trips.

Does Pollen Also Cause Bee Drunkenness?

While fermented nectar and honey can intoxicate bees, there is no evidence that pollen causes inebriation.

Some speculate that naturally occurring ammonia in pollen could exert mild neurological effects on bees. However, scientific research has not confirmed any impairing substances in bee-collected pollen.

If bees seem “drunk” after eating pollen, it may be explained by the following:

  • They swallowed some alcoholic nectar while gathering pollen.

  • They are experiencing a “pollen high” – bees naturally get very excited and active during major pollen flows.

  • They may have trouble flying simply due to the large pollen loads on their legs, rather than intoxication.

So while pollen foraging links to odd bee behaviors, the pollen itself does not directly cause drunkenness.

What Happens When Drunk Bees Return to the Hive?

Guard bees are quick to identify incoming foragers that are flying erratically or behaving strangely. Drunk bees are promptly refused entry at the hive entrance.

This serves an important purpose – to protect the hive from potential dangers:

  • Fermented nectar carried by a drunken forager could spoil existing honey stores if allowed inside.

  • Alcohol can seriously sicken bees. Keeping drunk bees quarantined prevents contamination.

  • Aggressive or impaired bees also pose a risk to hive productivity and safety.

Rejected bees typically die since they cannot return home or withstand the outside elements alone. This is why intoxication is extremely dangerous for bees.

Do Bees Get Addicted to Alcohol?

Interestingly, bees appear to develop alcohol tolerance over time, needing more nectar to become impaired. They may even prefer fermented nectar. This indicates bees can get habituated to alcohol, but addiction is difficult to demonstrate conclusively.

Their exposure is likely limited by the hive’s policing of drunk bees. If bees carried back fermented nectar consistently, the entire colony’s health would be jeopardized.

Tips for Preventing Bee Drunkenness

While we can’t control Mother Nature, here are some tips to minimize bee alcohol consumption:

  • Ensure adequate water sources near the hive. Well-hydrated bees may drink less fermented nectar.

  • Select nectar and pollen plants less prone to fermentation. Avoid landscape plants like overripe fruit trees.

  • Harvest honey promptly to remove any alcohol before it spreads.

  • If you spot intoxicated bees, try moving hives to a new foraging location.

  • Monitor for humidity/rain and relocate hives if necessary during prone conditions.

The Verdict on Pollen and Bee Inebriation

The verdict is clear – pollen itself does not cause bees to become drunk or impaired. Only alcoholic nectar containing fermented sugars and yeast can intoxicate bees.

However, pollen foraging does provide opportunities for bees to encounter fermented nectar on flowers. So pollen and drunkenness are indirectly linked, even though pollen is not the direct cause.

Understanding the science and risks of bee intoxication will make you a more attentive beekeeper. You’ll be equipped to interpret odd bee behaviors and safeguard your hives from potential perils.

Testing anti-alcoholism drugs on bees

Bees are nature’s hardiest drinkers. Unlike us, bees can ingest large amounts of 100% proof alcohol without dying.

This would be the equivalent of a human consuming straight ethanol.

Now scientists from the UK and America use bees to test new anti-alcoholism drugs.

They allow bees to consume alcohol and then trial the drugs’ effects to test their effectiveness.

What happens to drunk bees?

Boozed-up bees returning to the hive are often met with a vicious response from the colonies’ inhabitants.

Guard bees are usually in charge of keeping people out of the entrance to the hive or nest, but they are also in charge of greeting returning bees.

Any signs of a bee consuming alcohol will be met with a quick but violent response.

Guard bees will eject drunk bees from the hive’s entrance, often removing wings and legs in the process.

This may seem harsh, but it has to be done for the good of the colony as a whole.

It would be terrible if fermented nectar got into the hive and turned into honey and then mead. It could paralyze everyone inside, which would be very bad.

Bee gets Executed for being Drunk

Leave a Comment