Most people love honey! The gentle, sweet taste of honey has a very huge number of fans the world over.
Apart from the great taste, honey is also admired and used for its medicinal and health benefits. And don’t forget honey can help people look more beautiful too! In short, the benefits of honey are many.
We know honey bees make honey. But we don’t know how bees make honey in detail.
For instance, we may know nothing about what honey bees do to bring the moisture content to the desired level. We may not know how far honey bees travel to collect nectar from flowers.
There’s so much to learn about the fascinating world of honey bees and honey. Let’s get started!
How do bees make honey?
The answer to the question ‘How do bees make honey step by step’, we’ve broken down the entire process to make it easy to understand.
Female honey bees start looking for suitable flowers.
Only female bees go out to collect nectar from flowers. This nectar is then converted to honey. The action of going out to collect nectar is called foraging.
The bees travel within a 5-mile radius of their hives.
The bees that go out foraging are called worker bees. They stay within a 5-week radius of their hive. They have a specialized mechanism to decide directions and distances.
They land on flowers that produce nectar.
Not all flowers produce nectar, so bees look for the flowers that do. Plants that are pollinated by the wind may have flowers, but these flowers don’t produce nectar.
They begin collecting nectar.
Honey bees have a special straw-like tongue called proboscis. They insert the proboscis down the flower to such the nectar out. The part of the flower that holds the nectar is known as the nectary. The process of drawing in nectar through the proboscis is pretty much like using a straw to drink from a bottle!
They decide if they want to store the nectar or eat it.
Just when the bees start sucking nectar, their body decides if they need energy. If they do, the nectar is sent to their regular stomach and converted to energy for the activities and existence of the bees. This nectar isn’t used to make honey.
The nectar goes into a special honey sac.
The nectar that the bees don’t need for their own energy will not go to their regular stomach. Instead, it is diverted to a special collection chamber called honey stomach or honey sac. This nectar is not for the ‘personal use’ of the bee. Instead, their body will begin the process to convert nectar into honey.
The bees keep collecting nectar from different flowers till the sac is full.
Honey bees will need to visit several flowers to collect enough nectar during every trip. So once they’re done sucking nectar from one flower, they jump on to the next. And the next. And so on.
The process begins in the honey sac.
While the nectar in the honey sac isn’t used up for the bee’s energy requirements, the honey bees don’t let nectar sit idle. Special enzymes inside the bees’ bodies break down the complex sugar of nectar into simpler ones.
The bees will return to their hives.
When the honey bees find their honey sac is full, they will stop drinking the ‘nectar’ and begin their return journey home. You will be surprised to know that the weight of nectar these worker bees carry is nearly the same as the weight of their own bodies!
This nectar is handed over to the bees inside the hive.
Bees that don’t go out of the hive and work and live inside the hive are called house bees. The worker bees ‘hand over’ the nectar they have collected to the house bees. From here, the house bees take over.
The house bees will begin the remaining process.
After transferring the nectar, the worker bees will get ready to go out for the next round of foraging. The house bees now assume control of nectar. They add a special enzyme to nectar. This will break down nectar from complex sugars to simple sugars. This can take upto 30 minutes.
The nectar is now officially honey, but that’s not the end of the story yet – the moisture content is too high.
Next, the house bees spread out the honey over the comb.
Spreading out the ‘incomplete’ honey over the comb has a special purpose. Upto this point, the moisture content of honey is still high.
By spreading out the honey, the bees ensure that surface area of the honey is maximized. This will help more moisture to escape and the honey will turn into a thicker liquid. Some people still prefer calling it syrupy liquid instead of honey, because there’s some work still pending.
There is still more work to be done to remove excess moisture.
The spreading out of the nectar helps lose some extra moisture but not all. The moisture content in the original nectar is around 70 to 80% which the bees need to reduce to 18% or less. So they begin flapping their wings. This action raises the temperature of the hive and gradually the excess water content begins to evaporate.
Now it’s time to store the honey.
Yes, honey is now ready to consume. But the bees don’t eat it right away. Instead, they will store it for future use – especially winter. So they will now pack and store the honey. This honey will be transferred to the small storage units in the hive. These units are called cells.
The cells need to be sealed.
For protecting their honey they now have, the bees seal the cells. These cells, hexagonal in shape, are sealed with wax.
Another interesting aspect of the cell is their angle. They are kept tilted at a small angle from the horizontal. This tilting makes sure no honey drips out of the cell.
Bees will remove this seal whenever they need honey again. It’s like capping and uncapping a jar or a bottle whose contents you wish to protect!
Hopefully, the above steps explain to you how bees make honey!
As you understand how bees make honey step by step, you can’t help but marvel at the hard work that these little organisms put in. Every step, from foraging to sealing the cells, is an important link in the entire chain of events.
These hardy bees meticulously follow each step with a copybook approach. And that’s their secret to producing the yummy, healthy honey that all of us love!