Do Bees Eat Meat?   Amazingly, A Small Group Of Tropical Bees Do!

Although it is very uncommon and the vast majority of bees are vegetarian, I am certainly aware of a very small number of tropical species of bees (notably in Panama) that eat meat.    

A small group of tropical bees, sometimes referred to as 'Vulture Bees', and belonging to the genus Trigona, eat dead animal flesh – which may be rotting - for protein. 

Below is a photograph of a species which eats decaying flesh! 

Above: Meat eating bees - Trigona hypogea eating a dead lizard. Photograph by D. Wittman

Such bees have been observed to eat meat from dead lizards, toads, birds, dead monkeys and even snakes and fish (and even chicken supplied by the research scientist), and have also been observed to chase away flies already feeding at a dead carcass.

Whilst feeding, they typically attack the dead carcass through the eyes.  

The bee feeding at the carcass mixes the animal flesh with a digestive fluid it secretes from its mandibular or salivary glands, to break it down into an edible substance, and it is stored in the bee’s ‘crop’.

Back at the nest, this substance is then placed into pot-like containers until it is time to feed the immature bees.

Species known to eat meat include:

Trigona crassipes (Fabricius, 1793)
Trigona necrophaga (Camargo & Roubik, 1991)
Trigona hypogea
Trigona hypogea robustior (Schwarz, 1948)
Trigona hypogea hypogea (Silvestri, 1902)


Isn't A Meat Bee A Type Of Wasp?

Please note, these carrion bees or meat eating bees, must not to be mistaken for the Yellow Jacket wasp that in some regions may be referred to as a 'meat bee', probably because wasps are known to feed other insects (including crop pests) to their young.

Why Do These Bees Eat Meat?

Dr David Roubik found that these bees are not able to access pollen, and the bees had no pollen stores for feeding their young.  Pollen is a very important protein source for developing bees, and hence the meat replaced the protein content other bee species gain from pollen.

How Are These Bees Adapted To Eating Meat?

Dr Roubik found that these meat (carrion) eating bees have five sharp teeth on each mandible (mouth part) with which they can bite into flesh.

Other bee species carry pollen on their hairy bodies, but interestingly, Roubik found these bees had evolved physically, so that they have lost the hairy pollen baskets on their hind legs that most bees use to transport pollen to the nest.  (You can read more about how bees collect pollen here and on a separate page about why bees need nectar and pollen).

Here is a scientific paper about the subject by Dr Roubik:  Roubik, D.W. (1982). "Obligate Necrophagy in a Social Bee".


Do Bees Eat Other Insects?

No they don’t.... at least, not generally! However, again there are exceptions! 

One of the Vulture bee species listed above – certainly Trigona hypogea, has been observed to eat dead insects.

What Else Do Bees Eat?

Most bees stick to nectar and pollen, however, bees may be observed eating aphid honey dew, secretions from extra-floral nectaries of plants, and sometimes even the juice on ripe fruit such as plums.  You can read more about this on my page: What Do Bees Eat?

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