Humans have enjoyed honey for thousands of years. This delicious natural sweetener is made by bees. They collect nectar from flowers and process it inside their hives. But have you ever wondered how much honey does a bee actually make? Despite their small size, bees are incredibly efficient workers, and every single bee contributes to the overall honey production of a hive. Let’s take a closer look at just how much honey a bee produces.
There is much work to be done inside a honey bee colony. Bees are cold blooded insects and they must store food for Winter. Bees make honey primarily from plant nectar that is collected from blooming plants. This stored food allows the colony to live through the cold months of the year.
Factors that Affect How Much Honey a Bee Makes
With the reputation of being hard workers, each colony member is “busy as a bee”. Toiling endlessly during the daylight hours, bees collect the resources needed.
Millions of flowers are visited and sweet nectar is taken back to the hive for the conversion – where watery nectar become ripe honey. But, with thousands of individuals in a hive – how much honey does one bee make?
To come up with even estimations of production, we must average out what we know about foraging behavior. Even then, each colony, bee and location has many variables in play.
The main factors:
If the colony is suffering from disease or parasites ( varroa mite infestations) – each bee lives a shorter life and is less productive.
Weather conditions can greatly affect production due to a lack of nectar collection. Foraging bees don’t normally fly in rain or high winds.
Workers stay inside on bad weather days. If bad weather occurs during the honey flow, this affects production.
The amount of nectar rich flowers for bees that are available nearby, also plays a role in how much honey a bee might make too.
Not all plants produce nectar and even those that do can fail to do so at certain times. If you area is affected by a nectar dearth (perhaps caused by drought conditions), workers will have trouble finding nectar.
Season issues come into play in our estimates. The months of the year when bees are out depends on where you live.
In most areas, bee colonies are busiest from May to August. Southern regions have a longer harvest season that those who live in the north.
The Foraging Worker Bees
Keep in mind that all these numbers are averages. There is no way to measure the amount of honey made by any single bee.
No one bee collects nectar and completes the entire process alone. This is a group project. Field workers hand off the nectar to house bees that complete the process.
In the Summer months, a worker bee lives about 6 weeks. The first 3 weeks are spent doing various tasks inside the hive. The last half of her life involves being a forager bee – gathering nectar and pollen from flowers.
The most time-consuming task for any colony is nectar collection. Each type of plant nectar is slightly different in sweetness and water content.
On average, nectar is about 70-80% water while ripe honey is about 17%. This means our workers must carry a large amount of liquid to the hive for dehydration and conversion to a stable food source.
Using her proboscis (straw-like tongue) nectar is sucked up into her crop (or honey stomach) and transported back to the hive.
An individual worker bee is capable of carrying .25 to 80 milligrams of nectar. But, she is always returning to the hive with a full load.
Back at the hive, house bees complete the process. Enzymes are added to convert the sugars. And, drying reduces the water content of the ripe honey to a stable state-good for long term storage.
On average, resources say that a single bee makes about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime.
But, this is just an approximate average because this task is carried out by thousands of individuals working together.
How Many Bees Does It take to Make a Jar of Honey?
Explaining how many bees it takes to produce a single jar of honey requires a lot of estimation. First, let’s go on the assumption that it is the life’s work of 12 bees to produce one teaspoon.
The most common size jar of honey sold in the the United States is 1 pound or 16 ounces net weight. A pound of honey measures 64 teaspoons.
Therefore, we can say that it would require the work on 768 honey bees to produce that jar of honey.
Why do Bees Make Honey?
It is easy to see that making honey is a lot of hard work. Why do bees invest all this energy into the process? The reason is actually simple. Honey bees overwinter as a group inside the hive.
They must have a stable food source during these months. Unable to fly in the cold (and no flowers to visit) means that stored food is essential. Watery nectar would spoil – ripe honey lasts virtually forever.
Bee health, colony population, amount of forage plants in your region and weather conditions all contribute to the seasonal totals – for the hive and the individuals.
As you can see, determining how much honey a single bee makes is at best an educated guess that takes the laws of averages into account. Colony life is all about the survival of the group. This type of job sharing and specialization is what makes the bee colony one of the most unique and interesting social organisms in the natural world.