Before I answer the question “How do bees make honey?”,you might be interested to know that there are several types of bees – bumblebees, honey bees, yellow jackets, carpenter bees, wasps, hornet, and more. But in general, honey is produced by the honey bees (thus the name!). So since I’ll be talking about “all things honey”, let me just tell you about the honey bees here 🙂
The bees I’m referring to are from the Apidae family since the honey that we know today is the kind that is produced by this species of bees.
How Bees Make Honey?
When a honey bee visits a flower (usually located around 1 or 2 kilometers away from its hive), it obtains two things from the flower: nectar and pollen (We’ll take a closer look at pollen later on).
Bees make honey from the nectar they get from the flower. Nectar is a sweet, sugary liquid secreted by flowers and it is the basic raw element that is actually used to make honey. This nectar, in fact, determines the components and taste of the honey.
This is why honey comes in so many different varieties!
A honey bee can collect up to 40 mg of nectar and 20 mg pollen on average per day. Bees usually collect nectar in the warm season, typically from spring through autumn.
To answer the question “How do bees make honey?”, it’s necessary to describe the whole process of making honey starting from the point where the bees collect nectar, not just the activities that take place in a beehive. This process starts when the worker bee sucks nectar from flowers using her tongue (also called proboscis) and stores it in her special pouch in her body known as the honey stomach.
When the stomach is full – usually after visiting between 50 to 150 flowers – the worker bee will return to the hive. The process of converting the nectar into honey though can start even before she reaches the honey bee hive. How?
You see, on the way back, the bee adds a type of enzyme from her body to the nectar that she collected. What this enzyme does is breaking down the complex plant sugar in the nectar into glucose and fructose which are simpler and can be digested more easily by the bees.
This nectar is carried back to the hive, ready to be unloaded by the other worker bees (By the way, a hive contains around 40,000 bees on average). Now they are all set to proceed with the next step in honey-making: nectar transfer.
The nectar is transferred to the other worker bees through their mouths. Once the nectar is delivered, the worker bees will store it in the honeycomb cells. At this point, most of the moisture will be evaporated, which leaves approximately 18 to 20% of water in the honey and turning it into a thicker syrup. To help make the nectar dry even faster, the bees will fan it with their wings.
Now let’s look happen in a honey bee hive. (By the way, when we talk about honey bee hives, we are usually referring to the artificial or man-made honey bee hives that are solely intended for honey production. Natural honey bee hives are referred to as “nests”). In a hive, other enzymes are added to avoid fermentation and bacteria attack. Once this is done, the worker bees will seal the top of each cell with a thin beeswax cap. This is where the honey is stored until it is eaten. After that, they will move to the next empty comb, starting the process of making honey all over again.
Amazing, don’t you think?
Well, now that you know how honey is made, next time somebody asks “How do bees make honey?”, you can talk like an expert and proudly tell them the story from A to Z! 🙂
Want to know about other bee products and their benefits? Learn about other popular bee products such as royal jelly and propolis.