Honey bee (Apis mellifera) nurses do not consume pollens based on their nutritional quality
Honey bee workers (Apis mellifera) consume a variety of pollens to meet the majority of their requirements for protein and lipids. Recent work indicates that honey bees prefer diets that reflect the proper ratio of nutrients necessary for optimal survival and homeostasis. This idea relies on the precept that honey bees evaluate the nutritional composition of the foods provided to them. While this has been shown in bumble bees, the data for honey bees are mixed. Further, there is controversy as to whether foragers can evaluate the nutritional value of pollens, especially if they do not consume it. Here, we focused on nurse workers, who eat most of the pollen coming into the hive. We tested the hypothesis that nurses prefer diets with higher nutritional value. We first determined the nutritional profile, number of plant taxa (richness), and degree of hypopharyngeal gland (HG) growth conferred by three honey bee collected pollens. We then presented nurses with these same three pollens in paired choice assays and measured consumption. To further test whether nutrition influenced preference, we also presented bees with natural pollens supplemented with protein or lipids and liquid diets with protein and lipid ratios equal to the natural pollens. Different pollens conferred different degrees of HG growth, but despite these differences, nurse bees did not always prefer the most nutritious pollens. Adding protein and/or lipids to less desirable pollens minimally increased pollen attractiveness, and nurses did not exhibit a strong preference for any of the three liquid diets. We conclude that different pollens provide different nutritional benefits, but that nurses either cannot or do not assess pollen nutritional value. This implies that the nurses may not be able to communicate information about pollen quality to the foragers, who regulate the pollens coming into the hive.