How Do Bees Make Honey?
Excerpted from: How Honey Is Made?
Honey bees make honey as a way of storing food to eat over the cooler winter period, when they are unable
to forage and there are fewer flowers from which to gather food. During the winter,
workers and the queen form a tight cluster and metabolize the honey to generate heat. This keeps the
bees warm and protects them from the cold. The colony will perish if the honey supply runs short and the
bees are unable to produce adequate heat.
Not all bees are created equal when it comes to producing honey. Many bees pollinate and
collect pollen to store for the cold months, so they can survive. Honey Bees however, collect
nectar and pollen to make their sweet survival food - honey.
There are only about 7 species within the Honey Bee family. The magnificent little creatures
that give us such a wonderful sweet treat are heavy-duty worker bees. In addition to producing
honey, Honey Bees also produce beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.
Honey Bees need nectar and water to make honey. They need a place
to live, such as the hive. They also need pollen. Adult bees don’t need much pollen.
However, bee larvae need lots of pollen because of the high protein content.
Honey Bees have other needs too. They need vitamins, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and minerals.
They require each of these to raise healthy new bees. This, in turn, means raising healthy young
workers and eventually foragers. These requirements all play a key role in the continuation of a
Honey Bee foraging
Bees will forage within a 5-mile radius of their hive, though they will generally stay as close as possible.
There are many flowers that attract bees out foraging. These flowers contain sugary nectar and high
protein pollen. The sugar and protein components give the bee's young (larvae) a good start to life.
When they become adult Honey Bees they need the energy to flap their wings so quickly.
Honey Bee workers forage for nectar for approximately 3 weeks. They may visit up to 100 flowers per
trip and make up to 50 trips per day, although this varies depending on plant availability or quality,
weather, and physical barriers. If a foraging bee discovers a good source of nectar she is able to
communicate this information with other bees using a waggle dance when she returns
to the hive.
When bees collect nectar, they use a long tongue called a proboscis that can slide down
into the flower and suck nectar out like a straw. They store the nectar in a second stomach, sometimes
called a honey stomach, that doesn’t digest nectar. It serves as a carrying purse and is in
front of the digestive tract of the bee. The honey stomach can hold up to 70 mg of nectar and weigh almost
as much as the bee itself.
Honey Bees have tiny hairs on their bodies allowing pollen to stick to them, so they can carry both nectar
and pollen while flying. While the worker bees are flying and storing nectar, the honey stomach begins
mixing the nectar with enzymes to start pulling some of the water out of the nectar.
Honey Bee workers
returning to bee hive.
When the worker returns to the hive with the nectar she has foraged, there will be a younger worker bee
waiting. This waiting bee is often referred to as a house bee. Her job is to suck the nectar
out of the honey stomach of the forager.
Once the nectar has been transferred, the house bee will chew it for about 30 minutes. While chewing,
she adds enzymes to the nectar to break it down, forming simple syrup. The enzymes
also reduce the water content in the nectar. This makes it easier to digest and less likely to be plagued
by bacteria while stored inside the hive.
Once the syrup has been created, the worker bee will distribute the resultant syrup over the comb of
the hive. This is accomplished by spitting up the nectar that she chewed for the past half hour. She
will deposit this inside a cell in the honey comb. Then she spreads the tops out to maximize the surface
area, so that water can continue to evaporate from the honey syrup and make it thicker over time.
Additionally, Honey Bees help reduce the water content by fanning the honey with their wings.
Honey Bee workers
capping honey cells.
Once the honey is to the right consistency and the water content at the right level, a bee will cap the honey
comb cell with beeswax making it ready for later consumption. Bees will excrete a substance from their
abdomen to cap the honey. This comes from wax glands on their abdomen. The glands push out sheets
of this substance, made up of scales, which dry to form beeswax.
Honey is made up of about 82% carbohydrates, mainly fructose and glucose. It also contains a variety of
enzymes that help convert other enzymes into fructose and glucose. Honey also has 18 different amino acids.
Honey also contains honey contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. These include Vitamin B, Vitamin B6,
Vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, chromium, as well as antioxidants like flavonoids.
Plants had to solve a problem: they needed to find ways to spread their genetic material.
Flying pollinators were nature's solution. Nectar is made as a reward for pollinators.
Take this quick quiz and see how much you know about bees—our favorite essential pollinators
working around the world. This quiz is intended for fun, in a random-facts-can-be-cool kind of way.
Have you ever wondered how bees fly and why is there all that buzzing? Buzzing is the sound of
a bee’s beating wings. Scientists first realized that bees seem to flout the laws of mathematics
in the 1930s.