My kids prefer honey to other sugars but have a healthy respect for bees after my 4-year old tried to hold them as pets. The most fascinating thing about bees is how they are able to create such sweet-delicious honey.
Bees make honey in five not-so-easy steps.
- They fly miles and miles to find and collect nectar.
- Bees drink the nectar and store it in their honey stomach where enzymes start to break it down into simple sugars.
- Once their honey stomachs are full, bees fly back to their hive and share the nectar with other bees to add more enzymes to it.
- The bee tells other bees where to find the nectar so they can go gather more!
- After the nectar has been shared with the other bees and the enzymes have broken it down into sugars, the newly created runny honey is put into honeycomb to be stored.
- Bees will then fan their wings to dry out the honey. When it is dry enough they will seal it with wax so that it stays good.
Let’s look at each step and dive a little deeper into how bees make that delicious honey! For more detailed information, check out this article.
Flying Miles And Miles To Gather Nectar
Making honey takes a lot of work and the bees are constantly moving. It takes thousands of bees just to make one pound of honey! But not just any bee can make honey that we can eat.
There are over 20,000 species of bees!
Plus, wasps and hornets don’t make honey. They scavenge food from dead animals, trash bins, and picnics.
Apis Mellifera, the honey bee, is the most widely known bee that does make honey, however, it isn’t the only kind of bee that can do it! Other social bees can also make honey but they don’t make enough to share with humans.
As a group, honey bees usually fly up to 55,000 miles just to produce one pound of honey. Individually, each bee visits about 100 flowers per trip just to fill their honey stomach with nectar!
Filling Their Honey Stomach
Honey bees have two stomachs. One is for digesting their food and the other one stores nectar and begins the process of turning the nectar into glucose and fructose, simple sugar compounds that make honey.
They walk face-first into the flower then use their straw-like tongues to suck out the nectar and store it in their honey stomach. This stomach creates an enzyme that begins to turn the nectar into honey.
Sharing The Nectar To Create Honey
Once the bee’s honey stomach is full of nectar it flies back home to its hive to share the nectar with other bees.
One bee takes the nectar, stores it in its honey stomach and adds more enzymes. Then she gives it to another bee to do the same thing. This sharing goes until the nectar has turned into runny honey.
It takes thousands of bees working together to do this process.
Worker Bee Tells Other Bees Where To Find Nectar
Each bee’s job is important and they need to communicate to make sure everything is getting done, so how do bees communicate?
Did you know?
Each dance has a special meaning.
For example, when a scouter bee finds flowers she goes back to the hive and does a little dance to tell the others where the flowers are.
If she swings her backside quickly it shows that there are a lot of flowers and it’s a good place to get nectar. The more energetic the dance, the better the nectar source!
She will also walk in the direction of the flowers so the other bees can find them.
Bees are telling this information inside a beehive. They could be facing any direction. So the dance that the bee does is in relationship to the sun.
That way when the other bees go outside, they can immediately know what direction to fly. Otherwise, they could get lost by the time they got outside.
Storing The New Honey
Once the nectar is turned into runny honey the bees put it into a storage cell in the honeycomb.
Honeycomb is made from wax that is also produced by the bees. The honeycomb stores the honey for the bees to use as food in the future. It is their food storage or pantry.
They will eat the honey stored in the honeycomb throughout the winter months when there aren’t flowers to gather nectar from. These storage cells are kept away from where the baby bees are growing and also kept separate from any bee waste.
Finishing The Honey
When it gets put in the honeycomb, the honey is super runny. It is more like water than honey. The next step is for the bees to fan their wings to evaporate the water and thicken the honey. This also helps to keep the hive at a desirable humidity since the honey evaporates water.
The nectar they gather from the flowers is about 80% water. They fan their wings until there is only 14-18% of water left in the honey. This takes a lot of hard work and energy. It also helps the honey store for a very long time.
Once it is the right consistency the bees will make more wax and cover the honey to help keep it fresh.
Then, during the winter or anytime there is a shortage of nectar the bees can access the stored honey to eat and feed their colony.
If the bees are kept in a hive that a beekeeper owns, the beekeeper knows the honey is ready to harvest and sale when the honey is sealed in with wax.
Many beekeepers only take the extra honey that is produced leaving their bees enough honey to get through the winter months. Others will take all the honey and feed their bees a sugar water solution through the winter.
How Do Bees Make Honeycomb?
Honeycomb is made up of beeswax. Bees have glands that can use the sugar from honey and convert it into a wax. The wax will seep out of their pores onto their abdomens.
Worker bees will then take the wax and chew it until it is malleable and can be shaped. They will then create a hexagon out of the wax. Hexagons provide a strong, space-saving shape.
Honeycomb is used to store honey, pollen, and nectar. It also provides a safe place for baby bees to grow and mature.
The Bee Society
Bees live in a large community. They are ruled by a queen. The queen bee is the mom of all the other bees.
Did you know?
She can lay over a thousand eggs per day! Next is a drone. Drone bees don’t have stingers and they stay inside the hive. The drone helps fertilize the eggs to create baby worker bees and eventually a new queen.
The last type of bee is the worker bee, they are all girls! The worker bees do all the other tasks in the hive. Some will go out to scout for flowers, others will go harvest the nectar, some bees help make honey and honeycomb, and others take care of all the baby bees.
Each bee’s job is very important to support the colony.
How Do Bees Stay Warm During The Winter
Bees are cold-blooded and so they have to work at staying warm. They try to keep their hive around 90-95 degrees year-round. To do this, when it’s cold outside the bees will fill in any cracks in their hive and swarm together to create body heat.
When it’s too hot outside they will take water droplets and put them around the opening into their hive. They will then fan their wings to evaporate the water and cool down the hive.
I like these questions and will move them to another bee article, but they probably aren’t questions kids will ask.
Can I Have Bees As A Pet?
Many people raise bees, but bees aren’t usually a good pet in the traditional sense. Bees can recognize individual humans and remember them, but this is usually a method of defense. They can also recognize individual bears in the wild. Even if a bee owner has a lot of good records with the bees in the hive, once the bees sense danger, they will attack.
So, bees will never learn to love a human owner or to recognize them with greater acceptance. Instead, most domesticated bees have been bred to be more mellow and less likely to attack.
If you want to have bees as a pet, you will need to get the help and teaching of an adult in your family who can help to teach you how to safely care for bees. They can also help you to get the protection you need while caring for bees.
Until then, continue learning all about amazing bees!
How Dangerous Are Bees?
Bees are very dangerous to people with a bee allergy. In some cases, a single bee sting can cause hospitalization. But, if you aren’t allergic to bee stings, then it is very uncomfortable, but not as dangerous.
Bee stings are more dangerous if you are stung on the neck or face. You should always have protection for your neck and face when you are observing or near bees. This will help to keep you safe. The face and neck are a lot more likely to react with increased pain, swelling or other reactions to a bee sting.
Do Bumble Bees Make Honey
Bumblebees do make honey that can be eaten by humans however they don’t store very much like honey bees do. Bumblebees usually live in warmer climates with longer flowering seasons so they don’t need to store as much honey to get through until the next flowering season.
Do Bees Die After They Sting You
Most bees survive after they sting something. But, honey bees, except for the queen, don’t survive. Their stingers are barbed so when a honey bee stings something it can’t pull the stinger back out.
This means that part of their nerves and insides are left behind and they die. The queen honey bee is the only one in the colony that doesn’t have a barbed stinger and so she can sting something multiple times.
Bees probably don’t know that their sting is fatal. Their main concern is protecting the hive and colony.