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How Do Bees Make Honey: The Sweet Science Behind This Liquid Gold

How Do Bees Make Honey - step by step

There are more than 20,000 bee species in the world, but only honeybees produce this sweet and delectable golden elixir.

We’ve been enjoying this tasty liquid for thousands of years, but not many realize how much work bees put into just to produce it.

So, how do bees make honey?

In this article, we’ll dig into the intricate process of producing honey and:

  • Why do bees produce honey
  • When do they make it
  • And how much honey can each bee produce

So, if you want to learn how these busy pollinators produce such golden liquid, join us as we uncover the sweet science behind it.

So, How Do Bees Make Honey?

In this section, we’ll give you a walkthrough of how bees make honey. But before that, we’ll unveil the most important ingredient for honey production first.

What Do Bees Make Honey Out Of?

Honey’s main ingredient is nectar from flowers and trees.

While pollens are important protein and nutrient sources, the sweet liquid that attracts bees to flowers, known as nectar, provides energy for the bees.

But how do they create honey out of nectar? We’ll break down the process for you.

The Process of How Honey Bees Make Honey

To help you better understand how bees produce honey, here’s an overview of the type of bees that produces honey, the honeybees.

BEE ANATOMYThe main organs in the honey-making process are the sucking tongue, mouth, and honey stomach or sacs of honeybees.

But they also use antennae to detect airborne scents and find sugary nectars from flowers.

Their tongue is for sucking nectar, while their mandible protects the tube-like mouth that sucks up fluids from flowers or within their hive.

Now bees have two kinds of stomachs; the honey stomach and their digestive stomach.

They are separated by a hard lining that prevents the nectar in the honey stomach from being lost to the rest of the body.

But if the bee is hungry, the lining between the honey stomach and midgut opens, and the nectar will move into the midgut, where food is converted into energy.

So how do honey bees make honey? Well, it all starts with foraging.

Step 1 on How Bees Make Honey -Foraging

The Foraging Session

1. A colony of bees, specifically the worker bees, will forage and visit 50 million flowers daily to gather nectar.

And these honey bees communicate and work as a team when deciding where the best flowers are. They use bumps, noises, and some dance moves known as the waggle dance to convey their message and communicate with each other.

They may need to travel 5 km searching for flowers with sweet nectar, and they usually visit 50 to 100 flowers per trip.

2. After finding a flower, they will suck the nectar droplets out of the flower’s nectary or nectar-making organ by using their long straw-like tongue called a proboscis.

According to Montana Public Radio, a worker bee must visit 1,000 flowers before its stomach becomes full.

3. The bees can either direct the nectar to their digesting stomach for a quick meal or store the nectar in their second, non-digesting stomach, the honey stomach.

But the honey bees are wise enough to store food in their honey stomach for future usage.

Turning Stored Nectar into Honey

4. Once the nectar arrives at the bee’s honey stomach, it will break down the nectar’s complex sugars into simpler glucose and fructose molecules, making it less prone to crystallization. This process is known as “inversion,” and the enzyme responsible for this process is called invertase.

5. After collecting and filling their stomach with nectar, the workers return to the colony’s hive and pass it onto the younger bees, called house bees, aged around 12 to 17 days old.

6. Then, each young worker honey bee chews the nectar for about half an hour and either places it into an empty cell or passes it into another bee’s mouth to reduce the nectar’s moisture content.

7. If the moisture content gets reduced from 70% to 18% and the nectar turns into honey, the molds and bacteria can’t grow anymore. So they will then store it in hexagon-shaped honeycomb cells that serve as little wax jars.

8. To make the honey a little thicker and more of a syrup than juice, they will flap their wings and dry it out with the warm breeze.

Sealing the Honey Off

9. Now that the honey is ready, the honey bees will seal each cell with wax to preserve it.

10. Finally, the skilled beekeepers can harvest some of the finished honey from the beehive while making sure not to harm or damage the colony.

Why Do Bees Produce Honey

Why Do Bees Produce Honey?

So, what do bees produce honey for?

Honeybees create honey to preserve their food for the winter when there is no blooming flower, and they can rarely go out to search for nectar.

They store it in their hives and consume them when necessary. If bees don’t preserve the nectar by turning it into honey, it will ferment.

Since they make more honey than what they need to survive the cold season, we can harvest some of their honey to make it our own food.

Some people may be wondering and asking, “why do bees make honey if they don’t eat it?”

Well, To set the record straight, bees do eat their own honey during the colder months, but humans can consume the excess.

When Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees generally start collecting nectar and producing honey from spring until summer and early fall because most plants and flowers bloom and have most nectar during these warmer months.

However, the exact timing may vary depending on the climate and location because every region has a different flowering season.

On the other hand, nectar is scarce during winter months, so they cannot forage and they will rely on the honey stored in their hives to survive.

As fall approaches and flowers become less abundant, honeybees’ honey production typically slows down. In winter, they focus on huddling together in the hive to keep the queen and the rest of the colony warm to survive.

Some beekeepers provide sugar syrup and supplements to their bees to ensure these hardworking pollinators will have enough food to survive until spring.

Do bees make honey year-round?

In some warmer climates, honeybees can collect nectar and create honey all year round. But honey production is tied to flowers’ seasonal availability in most parts of the globe.

How Much Honey Do Bees Make a Year?

A bee colony can produce around 60 to 100 pounds of honey annually. But an average worker honeybee can only make 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Luckily, a healthy and strong hive comprises 50,000 to 60,000 bees at the peak of their honey-gathering season. And they make more honey than they need to survive winter. So, we can get a portion of their food and taste their tasty product.

Beekeeper checking fresh honey

The Benefits of Eating Honey for Humans

Aside from being a natural sweetener, honey brings lots of benefits to humans. This section will discuss how honey consumption can help boost your health.

It Contains A Variety of Nutrients

Honey is packed with a variety of nutrients, including calories, carbohydrates, copper and riboflavin, and trace amounts of protein and fiber.

It’s also rich in polyphenols, a health-promoting compound that helps boost digestion and brain health and protects against several diseases.

Loaded With Antioxidants

Fresh, unheated, and high-quality, minimally processed honey has several bioactive plant compounds and antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids.

These antioxidants aid in neutralizing ROS or reactive oxygen species in your body which grow in cells and cause damage, premature aging, and type 2 diabetes.

May Improve Your Heart Health

Consuming honey may also help prevent heart disease because honey can improve blood fat levels, lower blood pressure, regulate your heartbeat, and prevent the death of healthy cells.

Another study which involved 4,500 people aged 40, also showed a relationship between moderate honey intake and a lower risk of high blood pressure among women.

Furthermore, raw honey usually has propolis which improves cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Aids in Burn and Wound Healing

According to a review of 26 honey and wound care studies, partial-thickness burns and surgical wounds that have developed an infection respond well to its use.

Diabetes-related foot ulcers, a dangerous condition resulting in amputation, can also be effectively treated with honey.

One study found that using honey as a wound therapy had a 43.3% success rate in treating diabetic foot ulcers. In another trial, topical honey effectively treated 97% of participants’ ulcers caused by diabetes.

10 Amazing Facts About Honey

Here are ten crazy facts about honey you might want to know.

  1. Honey is the only food created by an insect that both humans and insects eat.
  2. Natural honey may also contain flower pollen grains.
  3. Honey is made with nectar and bee enzymes sealed in a honeycomb.
  4. This golden elixir has anti-bacterial, probiotic, and antiseptic properties that are effective against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA) infection caused by staph bacteria. When stored properly, these qualities will never go off.
  5. It is also used in beauty products and treatments due to its moisturizing and antiseptic properties.
  6. Honey isn’t safe for babies due to the risk of infant botulism and for people with diabetes.
  7. Aside from honeybees, stingless bees from the tribe Meliponini and exotic swarming wasps in South America can also make honey.
  8. This golden liquid varies in color. You can find transparent and almost black honey, but the darker ones usually have more antioxidants.
  9. Some honey is sweeter than others because bees forage on different flowers, which results in different flavors and levels of sweetness.
  10. Cats can’t taste honey because they don’t have receptors to do so.

How Do Honey Bees Make Honey

Frequently Asked Questions About Honeybee’s Honey

In case you want to dig deeper into the honeybee’s honey-making process, we compiled other common questions and answers that might help you.

Where does honey come out of a bee?

Honeybees store the main ingredient for honey: the nectar collected from flowers in an organ called the honey stomach. It is part of their esophagus, and they carry it back to their hive, where they start the regurgitation process and place the finished product on the honeycombs.

Do bees use their mouth to make honey?

Yes, bees use their mouth to chew honey’s main ingredient, the nectar, for 30 minutes and pass it onto another bee’s mouth to reduce its moisture. They repeat this process until the moisture decreases from 70% to 18%

Do bees eat their own honey?

Yes, bees eat their own honey. In fact, it’s the primary reason they create honey, to preserve and consume it during the colder months because they can’t forage when the temperature drops. Honey is their energy and nutrient source, and it helps them remain healthy and survive.

Why do bees make honey if they don’t eat it?

To set the record straight, bees eat their own honey. But since they store more than what they can consume during the cold season, we can have a share of it but ensure not to hurt them during harvesting.

Are bees hurt when making honey?

Bees aren’t hurt when making honey. It’s actually us humans that may end up hurting them because if we’re not careful, we might tear up the honeybees’ fragile and sensitive wings and legs when harvesting.

What happens if you don’t remove honey from a hive?

Bees will run out of space for honey and new eggs laid by the queen if you don’t harvest the honey from the hive. This will cause your colony to swarm, and you might lose lots a significant number of bees.

How much honey should I leave in my hive?

You should leave at least 90 to 100 pounds of honey in your full-sized colony to ensure they will have enough food during the winter season. If you’d extract less honey, your bees will have enough food to survive the winter and the next year.

Can you take too much honey from a hive?

Taking too much honey can lead to insufficient food in the hive during the cold season. This might cause sickness and health problems among bees. You may supplement them with sugar syrup when it happens, but it’s best to leave them a sufficient amount of honey to ensure they’re healthy.

How Honey Bees Make Honey

Final Thoughts and Recap on How Do Bees Make Honey 

To sum up the answer to the question “how do bees make honey,” the keywords to remember are foraging, nectar collection, regurgitation, honey drying, and sealing of honeycombs.

The first step is foraging for nectar from flowers. Then they store it in their honey stomach and bring it to the hive.

The bees will then chew the nectar in their mouth for about half an hour and pass it on to other worker bees to reduce the moisture content until it drops from 70% to 18%.

Then, they store it in the honeycomb and make it a little thicker by flapping their wings and sealing it with wax, and it’s good to go!

Making a pound of honey requires a huge effort because around 10,000 bees must travel 75,000 miles and visit 80 million flowers to produce it.

So never waste a single drop of honey, and make sure you leave enough food for them when harvesting honey. That’s the best way to show gratitude to these hardworking little pollinators and honey-producing creatures.

READ NEXT: 35 Best Flowers That Attract Bees

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