Bears often get stung by bees when they raid beehives. Bears eat the immature bees, larvae, and honey which are found inside beehives, all of which are a great source of protein for them. Brown bears and black bears are especially likely to eat from beehives.
The protective adult bees sting the bears, but it’s not always easy to penetrate their thick fur to actually get to the skin. Once bears get the honeycomb, they run away to eat it and shake off the bees from their fur.
Although attacking bee hives may cause painful bee stings, bears endure it to feed on the nutritious bees, according to the North American Bear Center. Bears prefer immature bees because they’re abundant in fat and protein.
This article explores all about bears and honey and why it’s one of the bear’s favorite foods, as well as if all species of bears consume it or not.
Do Bears Eat Bees?
Bears eat immature bees because they’re an excellent source of fat and protein. The bears put up with the stings to get to the pupae, eggs, and larvae in the comb that are abundant with nutrients.
It will also consume the honey for the calories that the bear needs quite a lot of, especially when preparing for hibernation. Hibernation is a period where the bear doesn’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate.
There’s an evolutionary factor involved in the need of bears to remain in their dens during winter when the food sources are scarce.
The adult bees will try to protect the immature bees and sting the bear, usually in its face and ears, but this isn’t easy considering the bears’ thick fur that serves as a shield.
Once they get what they want, the bears run away and remove the bears from their body by shaking them off.
The bear will take the beehive and devour it entirely. Honey’s sweetness and smell may be what attracts the bear, but the real reward is the larvae and pupae.
Bears will also go up a tree if there’s a hive. The sloth bear and sun bear often climb trees to satisfy their need for honey.
In fact, the sloth bear is known to combine pieces of honeycomb with half-digested jackfruit and wood apples inside their body to produce a so-called bear bread that they give to their cubs.
This bread-like mass is circular and dark yellow. Interestingly, it’s considered a delicacy by Indian natives.
This interesting video shows a black bear cub’s first encounter with bees:
Do Bears Get Stung by Bees?
Raiding a beehive doesn’t come without consequences and the adult bees will get angry and try to protect their baby bees by biting the bear, mostly in the ears and face.
However, they won’t always reach the skin due to the long and thick fur. So, the bear probably doesn’t even feel the stings the bees are inflicting.
In some cases, the bees may manage to sting the bear’s nose or lips where there isn’t thick fur, but the bear will usually endure them to get to the honeycomb.
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In addition to raiding beehives in the wild, bears often raid human bee farms. To protect their bees, beekeepers often have to install electric fences or use other deterrent methods.
Still, there are cases when the bears get through these obstacles in pursuit of the sweet honeycomb and destroy the entire hive.
In order to protect their beekeeping industry, Maryland lawmakers had to pass a bill that makes it legal for a beekeeper to shoot a black bear that’s threatening their hives. But this isn’t the case in Maryland only, but rather a global issue.
Namely, according to Mental Floss, in 2018, bears damaged more than 370 beehives in Finland and Estonia, causing the government to pay out more than $100,000 to farmers due to their livelihood being destroyed with the hives.
Which Bears Eat Honey & Which Ones Do Not?
The brown and black bear enjoy eating beehives the most, but they’re not the only ones. The sloth bear, panda, spectacled bear, and sun bear are also other frequent consumers of immature bees and honey.
On the other hand, the polar bear that lives in the Arctic doesn’t consume honey because these regions are too cold for the honey bees to survive.
Since there are no honey-producing bees there (except the bumblebee), there are no hives and honey that the polar bear can eat.
What’s more, this bear is the most carnivorous of all bears and the thought of eating sweet honey may be unknown to them. Still, this doesn’t mean that a polar bear, if presented with the chance, won’t raid a beehive, particularly if it’s very hungry.
Since they’re known to eat anything from trash to carcasses, it won’t be a surprise if they reach for honey and bees.
According to researchers, honey bees prefer tropical climates and heavily forested areas. They can also thrive in domesticated environments, although their preferred habitats are meadows, woodlands, and areas with abundance of plants.
This is why bears like the black and brown one are so drawn to honey-they come across each other in their habitat often and the sweet smell of the honey attracts the bees immediately.
In this video, a beekeeper shares his tips for bear-proofing beehives:
Bears will eat honey bees whenever the chance presents itself. They’re attracted by the sweetness and the smell of honey and won’t mind the bee stings to get it. Moreover, they don’t just eat the honey, but the immature bees too due to their abundance in nutrients like fat and protein.
Highly nutritious and quite caloric, beehives are the perfect meal for the bear, especially prior to hibernation when they need to fill up as much as possible.
However, unlike the black bear and the brown bear that commonly raid beehives, the polar bear hasn’t tasted honey because no honeybees live in the Arctic.
Raiding beehives may seem like an excellent reward for the bears; however, it carries a lot of negative effects for the bee colonies and the beekeepers. Therefore, in some areas like Maryland, beekeepers are allowed to protect their hives by shooting any bear intruders.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.