Do All Bees Make Honey?
Among the thousands of species of bees in the world, each have specific characteristics that define them. One unique feature shared by a small number is the ability to make honey. One of the most common honey bee facts is their honey production. But, do all bees make honey? Indeed, they do not. Only the honey bees makes enough honey for us to harvest.
Honey bees are from the genus Apis. This scientific classification includes a diverse group of bees that includes, those that nest in cavities, dwarf bees and giant honey bees.
Most of these insects originated in southeast Asia. And, all of them are social insects that live in colonies and make honey.
The most well-known honey producing bee is the European Honey Bee (also called Western Honey Bee) – Apis mellifera. There are several races or types of bees within this group.
Why do Bees Make Honey?
In the insect world, survival depends on the ability to do what is necessary for life. Insects do not waste energy on needless tasks.
Honey production is important to bees that live in a hive or nest throughout the year.
By contrast, bee species that live as solitary individuals do not need to store food. These insects do not have large families to support.
Their goal is simply to feed and raise a small number of young. They do not overwinter as large families.
Solitary individuals may gather pollen and nectar. They mix these together to form a small loaf for feeding their young. There is no need to produce large stores of honey.
Most of the bees in the world are solitary insects. Therefore, most do not make honey. And, even fewer make enough honey for us to harvest.
How do Bees Make Honey?
Worker bees are female and they are responsible for collecting all the resources needed by the colony.
Honey is made from plant nectar by reducing the moisture content and adding the enzyme invertase. This converts that simple nectar sugars into honey.
The fact that honey stores well long term is important to bees. Ripe honey is sealed inside cells of beeswax honeycomb. It will provide food for the colony during times when no nectar is available.
When do Bees Make Honey?
In most regions, colonies do not make honey all year. Bees are cold-blooded insects. They can not fly in cold temperatures.
Also, during cold months very few nectar producing plants are blooming. This is why beekeepers can only harvest excess honey during the warmer production months.
Thankfully, healthy hives can produce a lot of honey. The thoughtful beekeeper must take care to only take the excess – beyond what the colony needs to sustain itself until next Spring.
Do Bumble Bees Make Honey?
Yes, bumble bees do make a small amount of a honey substance. But not enough is produced for humans to harvest or use.
Bumbles store honey in the nest in small structures called honey pots. However, because the bumble bee nest is small and does not overwinter as a family, the amount of honey produced is very small.
Only the bumble bee queens live over winter. They will hibernate in mulch, bark etc and emerge next Spring to begin a new family nest.
Wasps and Honey Production
A common question is – do yellow jackets make honey? No, they do not. Yellow Jackets are actually not bees – they are wasps.
While wasps will certainly enjoy stealing a sweet taste of honey, much like your soda at a picnic, they are primarily meat eaters.
Honey Bees and Honey Production
Honey bees live in large colonies of thousands of individuals. Even though the colony overwinters as a smaller family, they still require stores of food.
The colony can not survive Winter without a plentiful amount of stored food. An average colony in the US needs at least 60# of stored honey to survive until Spring.
The colder the climate – the more honey needed to feed bees and sustain life until Spring.
Foraging workers collect pollen as well. Pollen is a protein source needed in order to raise baby bees.
Although necessary for colony survival, pollen is not used to make honey. This is a common misconception because some people think that honey is made from pollen – it is not.
Without access to pollen the colony will fail because no new bees can be produced to replace those that grow old and die.
Beekeeping for Honey
Thousands of individuals enjoy beekeeping. We enjoy the pollination benefits that having hives provides. And also, producing honey is a common goal of becoming a beekeeper.
But honey production is only one of the benefit of keeping bees. The hive has so much more to teach us.
Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby to consider. And, we are the biggest fans of our honey producing bees.