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Honeydew feeding in the solitary bee Osmia bicornis as affected by aphid species and nectar availability

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date12/2009
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
Number of pages9
Original languageEnglish


Like honey bees (Apis mellifera), non-Apis bees could exploit honeydew as a carbohydrate source. In addition to providing carbohydrates, this may expose them to potentially harmful plant products secreted in honeydew. However, knowledge on honeydew feeding by solitary bees is very scarce. Here we determine whether the polylectic solitary bee Osmia bicornis (=O. rufa) collects honeydew under semi-field conditions, and whether this is affected by aphid species and presence of floral nectar. Bees were provided with oilseed rape plants containing flowers and/or colonies of either Myzus persicae or Brevicoryne brassicae. We used the total sugar level of the bee crop as a measure of the individual's nutritional state and the oligosaccharide erlose as indicator for honeydew consumption. Erlose was present in honeydews from both aphid species, while absent in oilseed rape nectar, nor being synthesized by O. bicornis. When bees were confined to a single honeydew type as the only carbohydrate source, consumption of M. persicae honeydew was confirmed for 47% of the bees and consumption of B. brassicae honeydew for only 3%. Increased mortality in the latter treatment provided further evidence that B. brassicae honeydew is an unsuitable food source for O. bicornis. All bees that were given the choice between honeydew and floral nectar showed significantly increased total sugar levels. However, the fact that no erlose was detected in these bees indicates that honeydew was not consumed when suitable floral nectar was available. This study demonstrates that honeydew exploitation by O. bicornis is dependent on honeydew type and the presence of floral nectar.