We all know why we want bees to make honey. It tastes delicious and can be very healthy for us. It is a natural foodstuff that has been used by man since ancient times. But why do bees make honey and do bees eat their own honey?
The simple answer is that bees are the original homesteaders – they are effectively preserving their food when it is plentiful in summer. All that hard work that they put in is to make sure that their colony has enough food set aside for the colder winter months. If you want to hometead these homesteaders with your own beehives, make sure you read our guide on how to become a beekeeper.
The way that they make honey is quite fascinating, so let’s have a closer look at that.
How is Honey Made?
Bees convert flower nectar into honey. They suck it up and store it in their “crop.” It is like a stomach that they have for this purpose. When they get back to the hive, a “house” bee sucks the nectar out of the crop and chews it.
The reason for this is that they need to remove some of the water content and add Invertase to the mix. Invertase is an enzyme that breaks the nectar down into its simplest components – Fructose and Glucose.
They do this because nectar itself has a very limited shelf-life. The simple sugars are not as perishable. Once they have finished chewing the nectar, they will regurgitate it into the cells.
The bees then fan the nectar to help the water in it evaporate. The combination of the fanning and the body heat of the bees heats the hive up and further aids this process.
Once enough water has been evaporated, the honey is ready, and the bees can seal up the comb. Once the wax cap is in place, the honey will last for ages without going bad.
And that partially answers the question, “Why do bees make honeycombs?” Bees make honeycombs to store their honey in and to keep it from spoiling. They also use it to store pollen in. The honeycomb is their version of a larder.
They take it a step further though, as well. When the queen lays eggs, she will lay them in a section of the nest called the nursery. The nursery is made up of honeycombs.
What Do Bees Do With Pollen?
Pollen is caught up in the hairs of the bee when it flits around from flower to flower. It has a high protein content and so is used by the bees as a food source. It is, however, primarily used as nutrition for young bees.
The pollen is mixed with some nectar and special digestive enzymes to create bee bread. This is then fed to the young bees.
So What Is Honey?
Honey is essentially just a dehydrated form of nectar that has been broken down into its component parts – glucose and fructose. Because the water has been removed, honey is a lot sweeter than the nectar in the plants.
Honey contains more than just glucose and fructose, though. It also contains a range of different vitamins and minerals and also eighteen different amino acids.
Do All Bees Make Honey?
While many different bees make a form of honey, what we know of as honey is actually made by one of seven types of the honey bee. According to the BBC there are close to 20,000 species of bees in total.
So, our honey-making friends are actually more the exception than the rule.
Different Types Of Honey
The final taste of the honey is influenced by the nectar that the bees use. So, honey produced in an area where there is a lot of clovers, for example, will have a different taste to one where there is a lot of goldenrod.
The flavor of the honey from a specific hive can also change from year to year if the flowers in the general vicinity change.
A bee will be able to fly up to five miles outside its hive to get nectar, so it has quite a wide range of options. That’s why you could buy two jars of honey from one supplier and find them to both tastes different. They should be reasonably similar, but differences can occur.
What Do Bees Eat When We Take Their Honey?
You do have to wonder if the bees are effectively storing up honey as a source of food during scarcer months, what happens if we take their supplies from them.
For starters, bees always put aside a lot more than they will actually need. Man is not the only creature that might steal the honey – there are a lot of insects and animals that will also try to take advantage. Bees naturally, therefore, put away more to compensate.
The effect on the colony when honey is taken depends on how skilled the beekeeper is. A good beekeeper will leave enough honey in the nest for the bees to use.
If the beekeeper takes too much, two things can happen:
- The bees will have to try and forage for more. This is possible in more temperate climates where there are flowers year-round and where the temperature does not drop too sharply.
- The beekeeper will have to feed the bees. Ideally, the beekeeper would do so using some of the honey from the hive. Honey from other hives should not be used because it could result in the spread of disease. The beekeeper could also feed the bees a sugar solution. This will keep them alive but is not the healthiest option for the bees.
Honey bees are fascinating creatures.
They work hard and create a delicious source of food for us. Okay, so technically they are working to feed themselves, but, as long as we are careful about how we do it, we can also benefit.