Yes, bananas contain natural sugars that bees are attracted to, however, bananas contain a compound that also occurs naturally in alarm pheromones released by bees. Feeding a banana to a managed hive or consuming a banana close to a hive can insight an aggressive reaction due to the similarity in these compounds.
When it comes to bees and bananas there have been very few actual studies carried out. Master Beekeeper, Katharina Davitt carried out a study on the Cavendish Banana and its nutritional benefit to honeybees.
This study was conducted in warmer climates, at this stage, there has been no scientific research regarding bees and bananas performed in temperate climates so the majority of information available is submitted by domestic and commercial beekeepers.
Bee's will feed on various sources of sugar they find while foraging including fruit that offers an easy route to access, this typically takes the form of fruit that has fallen to the ground and split.
The jury is well and truly out on this one. Some people swear that bananas drive honeybees into a stinging frenzy while others view it as a form of 'beekeeping myth'.
I didn't want to introduce bananas to my hive for some of the reasons I mentioned below but I was willing to test out this theory.
For the purpose of full transparency and (arguably) scientific research my hive is located in the south of England with a moderate climate. and arguably a very passive colony which hardly ever stings. I conducted this test on 17/5/22.
For safety reasons and because I genuinely didn't know how my bees would react I did opt for a full beekeeping suit for safety. If you're new to beekeeping and wondering can bees sting you through clothing, yes they can!
With a little trepidation, I peeled my banana down and approached my hive, first at around 20m and then slowly moving to around 5m away from the hive's entrance.
Nothing, no reaction whatsoever. A little disappointed I continued further and eventually inspected the hive, banana in hand.
When I opened the hive a few of the more active bees bounced and pinged around my veil but nothing out of the ordinary. I stayed for a few minutes to see if the bees would have a delayed reaction but other than the occasional ping against my veil they seemed fairly interested in me or the banana.
Banans contain lots of nutritional benefits for honeybees. They're packed full of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that aid a bee's natural growth and development.
In her study linked above Katarina suggest using bananas as a substitute during a dearth (a lack of nectar-producing flowers normally due to a poor season) or during the fall.
Some beekeepers have promoted bananas as a potential solution for parasitic spores. The idea here is that gases released from ripe bananas work to destroy any spores found within the hive.
Other sources claim that bananas can effectively treat conditions such as Varroa destructor ( the Varroa mite), Nosemosis or Nosema disease and Chalkbrood disease.
Despite these claims, there is no scientific research cited alongside these claims making them theoretical at best.
While bees can eat bananas to gain a myriad of nutritional benefits there are also some clear issues around feeding bananas to your managed hives.
Bananas are commonly infested by parasites and pathogens that can severely affect an entire colony if introduced even by a single bee.
As bananas ripen and spoil they slowly increase in sugar content as starch is slowly transformed into sugar. This does not escape the attention of opportunists that live around your hives.
Other small insects like ants hornets, wasps and beetles will be attracted to ripening bananas and will force entry into your hives in large numbers.
Even small mammals will be attracted to bananas putting your bees at risk. Mammals that may investigate your hive include voles, mice, possums, skunks and in extreme cases even bears.
Alongside the practical issues above bees that consume bananas will also be met with a myriad of issues due to some of the substances contained within the fruit.
Bananas have a high ash content that does not dissipate as bananas ripen and spoil. Ash refers to the indigestible part of food that honeybees store in their guts and defecate during foraging flights. Ash needs to be expelled from the bee's gut as large amounts of ash in a bee's system would eventually cause them to expire.
Ash from bananas doesn't pose a problem during the warmer summer months when worker bees regularly leave the hive to forage for nectar and pollen-rich resources.
However, when the fall and eventually winter arrives honeybees will retreat to their hives to stay warm. During this period worker bees will not take flight or leave the hive unless the temperature exceeds 12°C or 55°F. Due to the ever-increasing volatility of seasons, the times between winter flights can run for several months.
When worker bees are grounded within the hive for long periods they have no choice but to defecate the waste ash within the interior of the hive. This process is called honey bee dysentery.
This poses two major risks to the colony as a whole. Faecal matter produced by bees contains pathogens and parasites that run the risk of infecting other bees within the colony. Learn more about bee waste systems in our short read do bees fart?
Honey bee entry caused by bananas also carries a foul smell that can mask the natural smells and pheromones produced by the hive's inhabitants. This can make it harder for bees to communicate and reduces response times to potential attackers.
For this very reason, bananas should never be used to overwinter a managed hive.
Based on my reading and research my consensus is to keep bees and bananas apart. Yes, bees can and will eat bananas but the potential negative side effects are simply too risky for untested, unproven benefits.
I think of my hive as my family members and I simply wouldn't risk their lives without solid scientific research to back up some of the claims surrounding bees and bananas.
So in answer to the question do bees eat bananas? Yes, they do, but there are far too many other much safer sources of food for bees.