Potent Pollen

Pollen bees

Bees taking a rest before bring pollen back to the hive.

Dr. Zachary Huang out of Michigan State University recently wrote a review titled “Pollen nutrition affects honey bee stress resistance.” Frustratingly, it is one of those papers where you need to either pay $35 to get access to it or have access via a University library. Since it is hard to get ahold of, I am going to review it since I think the content is really interesting and important.

Dr. Huang first talks about what makes a good pollen. There are two components that bees need: crude protein and 10 essential amino acids. The best pollens have over 25% protein and the complete set of the 10 amino acids. There are few types of pollen with all the amino acids, so bees tend to do best when they have access to a variety of pollens.

pollen frame

Frame with a diversity of pollen. Different colors indicate that the pollens came from different plants.

Dr. Huang’s paper showed that when bees have a better diet they are more resistant to many different stressors. If bees have good pollen diet, they have a lifespan almost twice as long as bees without and pollen affects genes for antimicrobial peptides. Bees exposed to Nosema apis or Nosema ceranae have a longer lifespan if they had a pollen diet verses infected bees without the pollen diet. Bees feed a pollen supplement had lower Deformed Wing Virus titers that those fed only sugar syrup. A pollen diet also had a positive effect on colony populations in the presence of Varroa mites, although the mites had a larger effect.

In cage trials, bees exposed to different pesticides were less sensitive if they had a quality pollen diet versed a poor pollen diet. However, this research was done in 1983 (by Walh and Ulm) and the pesticides they used aren’t common anymore. As Dr. Huang points out, it would be really interesting to see a study done with pesticides that are commonly used today.

Overall, Dr. Huang’s paper showed pretty conclusively that a better pollen diet leads to more robust bee colonies. Not necessarily groundbreaking, but it provides a really good argument for why plant diversity is important to help our bees be healthier.


This is my mom’s prairie. It has a wide diversity of flowers and, consequently, it is alive in the summer with insects and birds.

Written By: Katie Lee

Katie Lee has written 53 post in this blog.

I'm a part of the Midwest Bee Team based out of the University of Minnesota. I work with commercial migratory beekeepers in North Dakota and Minnesota to help them monitor pest and disease levels. Before I was on the Midwest Team, I was on the CA Bee Team working for the Northern California bee breeders. I was introduced to honey bees during my last semester as an undergrad when I took a class on social insects with Dr. Marla Spivak. Marla asked me to work in the U of MN Bee Lab over the summer, and have been enthralled with bees ever since. My main interests are bee breeding, Varroa, disease ecology, and extension work. I received both a BS in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior and a MS in Entomology from the University of Minnesota.


8 Responses to “Potent Pollen”

  1. Matt

    Thanks for posting this synopsis.
    I think you are missing a word in this sentence. You don’t have to publish this comment, just letting you know.

    Dr. Huang’s paper showed that when bees they are more resistant to many different stressors.

  2. Susan

    Sorry, I just figured out (duh….) that the two articles aren’t the same. But the one I linked (’10), has some information that Dr. Huang apparently used in his most recent paper (’12), or is at least very similar. He does pose the question near the end of the ’10 paper about how pollen might affect the stress on bees.

  3. Katie Lee

    Thanks for the link! It does have quite a bit of the same information as the paper I was referring to. It is great to include as much information as possible so people can read and come to their own thoughts and conclusions.