How Honey is Made by Bees
Honey is a remarkable sweet substance made from plant nectar by honey bees. How do bees make honey and why do they do it? The ability of make this long lasting food source is key to honey bee survival. Without ample honey stores, the colony will not survive during the long, cold Winter months. The story of how they accomplish this feat is a good one.
The industrious honey bee is valued for a strong work ethic. Seeming to take no great concern for herself, she toils during the daylight hours to gather nectar from millions of blooming flowers.
Inside the hive, there is not rest for any bee – work continues around the clock. Honey bees have been making honey for millions of years . The honey bee hive has a mission and no time to waste.
Why do Bees Make Honey?
Bees make honey to store as food for Winter. It is the perfect food source for them because it will not spoil. Safe inside the hive, ripe honey will remain nutritious and viable for years.
Bees can not fly on cold days and there would probably be few blooming plants anyway.
In order for the colony to survive the cold winter months, food must be stored in advance of falling temperatures.
Snug inside the hive, members of the colony eat stored honey and produce enough heat to survive.
Making Honey is Instinctive Not Something Learned
It seems that the members of the honey bee colony do not have to be taught how to make honey. This skill is just something that they are born knowing how to do.
That’s a good thing because bees only live about 6 weeks during the Summer.
If they had to learn how to produce honey, they would have to be really good students.
How Do Bees Make Honey – Step by Step
- worker bees collect plant nectar
- bees carry nectar to the hive in their honey stomach
- house bees take the nectar and add enzymes from their mouth
- many house bees help produce honey
- sugars molecules change during the process
- waters nectar is dehydrated to remove moisture
- capped wax cells store ripe honey
Worker Bees Collect Nectar
Producing honey requires the efforts of thousands of individuals. The honey bee colony is a great example of a social organism.
The individual bees do not live for years but the colony itself can survive for a long time. As with any living thing, bees don’t live forever.
The honey bee life cycle demands that some are growing old and dying – while new bees are emerging to take their place. Honey production depends on a good strong work force.
It is the female worker bee that collects plant nectar. As she travels from flower to flower, she sucks up nectar using her proboscis (a long straw-like mouth part).
The nectar is stored in her “honey stomach” until she returns to the hive. This is a special organ located in her abdomen directly before her natural stomach.
Our worker bee adds a little saliva (with enzymes) to the nectar to make it easier to pass to her honey stomach. She does this even though nectar is already about 80% water.
When her honey stomach is full, she will return to the hive with her bounty.
Honey bees like to gather nectar from the same type of flowers on a single trip but the nectar will all be mixed together back at the hive. Each type of nectar has different natural compounds and floral esters.
How Honey is Made in the Hive
Now we get into the serious details of how honey is made and ripened at the hive.
House bees receive the incoming plant nectar from foragers. House bees are not foraging outside yet.
Later, they will become foragers and other bees will take their place inside.
Now, the actual honey ripening process begins. House bees manipulate the watery nectar with their mouths.
Then, they add and enzyme –Invertase to the diluted nectar. This comes from hypophrangeal glands located in the mouth/head of the worker bees.
The process of nectar becoming honey continues as the Ph and chemical composition of the nectar is changing. Glucose oxidase (another enzyme) is added along with the bee saliva.
Sugar molecules begin to change form and gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide are produced. These give honey its acidic and antibacterial properties.
Now it is time for the dehydration process to being. Plant nectar is watery – ripe honey is not.
Bees Complete the Conversion to Honey
A house bee releases a drop of this changed nectar to her mandibles (jaw). (Similar to us blowing bubbles with bubble gum).
Exposed to the warm, dry air inside the hive, the moisture content begins to drop. Nectar that is in the drying (or moisture reduction ) process may be placed in droplets along the surface of comb and moved several times.
House bees fan with their wings to increase air flow through the hive. This aids in lowering the water content of the nectar.
When the moisture content of the nectar has dropped from about 80% to 20%, we consider the transformation to be complete.
The bees have made honey from plant nectar. Honey is more stable than the watery nectar and less likely to spoil.
Wax honeycomb cells hold the ripe honey until it is needed. Bees cap each cell with wax to keep the food clean and safe.
How Much Honey Does a Bee Make?
An individual worker bee will only make about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. This makes it easy to understand why a colony requires thousands of bees.
Many different factors affect honey production. Weather conditions, nectar availability and hive healthy all play a role.
An average colony in a good location can make 60 pounds or much more of excess honey in a season.
A honey bee colony needs 3 resources in order to make honey.
- a strong population of healthy worker bees
- floral nectar available for gathering
- good weather conditions to work
Bees must visit approximately 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey. That is a lot of work!
No wonder the bees were angry when “Pooh Bear” wanted to steal the efforts of all their hard work. You would not want a chubby bear hanging outside your tree either!
Is Honey Bee Vomit or Poop?
No, Honey is not bee vomit – that is an ugly myth. A special structure inside the bee -called her honey stomach holds the collected nectar. It is different from her regular digestive system.
If she is hungry, she can open a special value and allow some nectar into her real stomach. But only nectar and added enzymes are involved in making honey.
Do Bees Make Honey all Year?
For most regions, honey production is not a year-round thing. Bees must have blooming plants that are producing nectar. Not many plants bloom during the cold season.
The colony may collect a bit of nectar at non peak times but not in sufficient quantities for serious honey production.
Is Honey Made from Pollen?
No. Bees do not use pollen to make honey. However, bees do collect pollen. It is a vital protein source needed to rear baby bees.
Pollen only contributes to honey production in that it supports having a healthy, strong workforce. The next generation is always on it way.
During honey harvesting, some pollen will end up in the finished product-but it is not the primary ingredient.
Is Honey Produced By All Bees?
No, not all bees produce honey. There are thousands of different types of bees in the world. Most are solitary bees that do not live together as large social units.
While some species of bees do make honey, none produce large stores of food for Winter like the honey bees.
Only bees in the Scientific Genus Apis are true honey producers. Bumble bees make a small amount of honey and store it in “honey pots” inside their nests.
The honey bee is the only insect that directly produces food for human consumption in real quantities.
A good crop of honey will yield enough for the bees winter food and some for the beekeeper.
This is due to the hard work and attention to task of thousands of bees making honey each season.