Science, Science and Tech

Honey you’re looking blue

Earlier this month, the town’s apiculturists, more commonly known as beekeepers, were surprised to find their hives glistening with red, blue and green honey.

Bee - e - a- utiful honey pots

Those of you sitting in the Hive and perusing through this issue of Concrete, may notice some of the vibrant colours surrounding you; from the blue noticeboards above your heads to the red couch you have nestled in to. It may surprise you however, to hear that bees in the town of Ribeauville, France, have been enjoying their own form of colourful decorating.

Earlier this month, the town’s apiculturists, more commonly known as beekeepers, were surprised to find their hives glistening with red, blue and green honey. Head of the Apiculturists Society Andre Frieh, says that he has seen honey ranging from golden yellows to dark browns but never these unnatural colours. The source of these strange colours came from sugars used to make M&M chocolates, which the bees obtained from a nearby biogas plant that has been processing waste from a Mars production factory. Collecting bees would have eaten these coloured sugars and stored them in a second stomach before mouth to mouth transferring the mixture to worker bees, who themselves store the sugars in their stomachs. Here enzymes breakdown the complex sugars into simple ones, resulting in a raw honey mix that is spread into honeycomb cells to dry.

Due to the harsh winter followed by the very wet summer this year, European honey bees (Apis mellifera) have been unable to forage sufficient amounts of nectar and pollen from wild flowers. This therefore means that they have resorted to collecting sugars from alternative sources which, in the case of bees in Ribeauville region, has been waste coloured sugars found in the biogas plant.

Although green honey on toast may seem like a novel and attractive breakfast, Frieh has found the situation far less amusing. Deemed as unfit for market, large quantities of honey will go to waste in a region where 2400 beekeepers rely on the 1000 tonnes of honey produced annually for their income. This disaster hits at a hard time as honey bee numbers continue to decline for a variety of reasons, including the epidemic spread of varroa mites (a parasite of honey bees) and viral infections.

23/10/2012

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