How Do Bees Make Honey?

Last Updated: 24.04.19

 

Have you ever wondered what happens inside a bee hive and how bees manage to make honey? If you just purchased your first bee hive kit for beginners and want to find out the answer to these questions, just read the following lines.

 

The process

A healthy hive will manage to produce and consume more than 110 pounds or 50 kgs of honey in just a single year. This involves a lot of work from the little insects. Although honey is made from nectar, it doesn’t come directly out of flowers looking exactly like we know it.

After the bees find their food source, they make use of a specially adapted tongue to drink very small amounts of nectar. This ends up in one of their two stomachs, called the honey stomach. More than 1,000 flowers have to provide nectar in order to fill the honey stomach of a single bee. Once filled with nectar, this organ may weigh just as much as the bee itself.  

As the bee is returning to the hive, digestive enzymes will interact with the stomach’s content and will begin the process of transforming it into honey. Once back at its hive, the forager bee then regurgitates the mixture of nectar and enzymes into the mouth of another bee. That one, in turn, does the same thing, vomiting the nectar into another mouth, and so on and so forth.

This activity of moving the nectar from one honey stomach to another is highly important as each insect adds some of its own digestive enzymes to the mixture. This transforms long chains of complex sugars into simple sugars such as fructose and glucose.

 

 

Even though its chemical content is right, the mixture still doesn’t have the right consistency, as it is still a bit too wet. In order to resolve this, the bees then vomit the nectar into their wax cylinders and then begin to strongly flap their wings. The created air current runs through all the hive and evaporates the water from the nectar.

The mixture’s water content drops from approximately 70% to 20% and as a result, the substance is thickened. Finally, they seal the wax cylinder with a cap, and the nectar, rich in enzymes, can complete the transformation into honey.  

 

Honey

The chemical content of honey gives it a naturally long shelf life. Because both the pH as well as the water content are low, bacteria and yeast spoilage do not find honey to be an inviting environment. Basically, wherever honey is found, you can be sure it’s safe to be eaten. Whether it’s in a beehive or in your pantry, honey does not have an expiration date.

Archeologists have found honey in ancient Egyptian tombs that is thousands of years old. All they needed to do is to heat it a little and it was actually edible.

To produce one pound of honey, 10,000 foraging bees must fly more than three times the length of the Equator or approximately 75,000 miles and land on 8,000,000 flowers. This requires serious teamwork and organization.

 

Communication

The main way bees communicate with each other is through body language. Forager bees perform a dance. This tells the rest of the bees in the hive where to search for food sources. Dancing in a circle pattern means that nectar is close to the hive, between 150 feet and 300 feet away. For food sources that are located at larger distances, the bees do their waggle dance.

These movements were first decoded by a beekeeper named Karl von Frisch and have remained some of the most impressive forms of animal communication. First, the bee walks in a straight line, waggling its entire body left and right while simultaneously flapping its wings. Then, the bee returns on a semicircle trajectory and repeats the dance.

Depending on the direction the bee walks, the other bees know in what direction to go. If the bee walks in alignment with the lines of the comb, then the flowers are towards the direction of the Sun. If the dance is performed at a certain angle, then the bees know that they have to fly at that angle relative to the Sun to find their nectar.

The longer the waggle, the farther away the food is, and the better the food source, the higher the speed of their dance. On cloudy days, the bees still have no problem in finding their bearings. Even if the Sun is not visible, the little insects can still find its position on the sky by reading the light’s polarization. This way they can also know what time of day it is.

 

 

Types of bees

Inside of any beehive, there are three types of bees: queens, workers, and drones. The queens and worker bees are females and the drones are males. As every hive can have only one queen, when a new one is born, it kills her sisters as soon as possible, getting rid of the competition.

When it’s time to mate, the queen goes to another hive and mates with more males to store their sperm. After returning, the queen will use this genetic material at her own hive, to lay over 1,000 eggs every day, for the rest of its life.

The unfertilized eggs will grow to become drones and the fertilized ones will become either new queens or worker bees. Even though the queen is the one that lays all the eggs, it’s still dependent on the worker bees, who represent the beehive’s backbone. They bring nectar in order to produce honey and protect the queen during winter.

Honey making is an essential part of the bees’ complex society. Besides the fact that honey is a food consumed by a lot of animals, including the bees themselves and also humans, this process has the important benefit of pollinating most of our world’s flowers.

 

 

 

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