How do bees survive on a diet of essentially pure sugar?


I have seen lots of posts about the diversity of the human diet compared to other animals and have learned a lot about how animals can synthesize nutrients or they have diets that are more diverse than we realize. But am I wrong to think that bees only eat honey which is essentially sugar? Could a human live on a diet of a proportional amount of honey to our size?

In: Biology

Bees feed on nectar, not sugar. Nectar is mainly a watery solution of the sugars fructose, glucose, and sucrose but also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils. Bees need a narrower range of amino acids than humans and nectar provides all they need.

Humans could likely survive indefinately on breast milk, but you wouldn’t be healthy. A British teenager collapsed and was taken to the hospital from eating only chicken nuggets for 15 years once. Potatoes are another one that people can live on exclusively for years. Technically cows milk could sustain you for a long time as well. But eventually if you’re eating only one thing, you will form ailments and finally die, but it could be a decade or more of ill health survival first. Not something worth experimenting.

Animals are adapted to different dietary needs based on their physiology and habitat. Just because one animal can survive on one diet doesn’t mean that is true for any other animal; humans and bees are not even remotely closely related.

Take cows, for instance. They eat nothing but grass all day. Grass is not very nutritious, so to get all the energy out of it they spend all day chewing it (and regurgitating it so they can chew it some more) and digesting it in their complex four-chambered stomachs. A human could not live on that diet, but on the other hand cows spend their whole lives eating and don’t have time to build skyscrapers and jumbo jets.

Bees don’t just eat pure sugar, they also harvest pollen from flowers which supplies the proteins and fats they need, especially as developing larvae.