Providing pollen substitutes to caged adult workers in the laboratory

Pollen substitutes are artificial diets that do not contain pollen, but rather protein from, for example, soybean, brewer’s yeast, milk, or algae (Brodschneider and Crailsheim, 2010). Much like sucrose solution as an artificial source of carbohydrates, these substitutes should contain no honey bee-related pathogens, few chemical residues, and can be more easily standardised among laboratories, especially when purchased from a commercial manufacturer that has strict quality assurance practices.

Both self-made, such as soybean and corn meal patties (e.g. van der Steen, 2007; Ellis and Hayes, 2009), as well as commercially produced substitutes containing essential amino acids, such as Bee-Pro® and Ultra Bee® (Mann Lake Ltd.; Hackensack, USA), Feed-Bee® (Bee Processing Enterprises Ltd; Scarborough, Canada), and MegaBee® (S.A.F.E. R&D; USA) can provide proteins, and possibly other nutrients and vitamins, required by honey bees (e.g. Cremonez et al., 1998; De Jong et al., 2009; Brodschneider and Crailsheim, 2010). Care must be taken because, for example, even soybean flour formulations can vary widely, and ingredients may not be ubiquitously available (Cremonez et al., 1998). Although various homemade recipes exist, the following soy-based pollen substitute was readily consumed by colony honey bees and promoted individual longevity (van der Steen, 2007) (Table 1); however, nutrition tests on caged workers are required.

Table 1. Pollen substitute composition from van der Steen (2007).


Proportion of total mass

Soya flower (degreased)


Beer yeast flour


Calcium caseinate flour (milk protein 90 %)


Whey protein flour (milk protein 80 %)


Sucrose solution (50 % (weight/volume) in tap water)


Linseed oil