We all know honeybees produce this wonderful sweet treat that everyone loves, honey. But how in the world do they make it?
Nectar is first extracted from flowers by foragers, or scout bees, (the oldest of the worker bees). They suck the nectar up through a long straw like tongue and into a second stomach named the crop, where enzymes are added to the nectar. These enzymes transform the pH as well as the chemical composition of the nectar, making it more favorable for consumption and long-term storage.
A scout bee can collect as much as half its body weight in nectar volume from as many as 400 flowers before returning to the hive! That is like me carrying 60 pounds while running for miles, impossible! That is impressive strength and endurance!
Once the scout bee returns to the hive, she regurgitates the nectar from the crop into the mouth of her younger sister, a house bee, who then spits it into a honeycomb. Once the entire volume has been transferred to the comb, a group of house bees gather around the nectar filled comb and begin fanning the liquid with rapid beats of their wings. This combined effort leads to evaporation of water from the nectar, which begins with an 80% water content, and ends at a 13-18% water ratio. Evaporation from 80% to 13%, by flapping their wings, wow!
The honeycomb is then covered with a waxy cap to keep it at a low water containing composition. This process is absolutely necessary to preserve the honey and protect it from fermentation or spoilage. Honey is purposed to feed the colony in times of nectar draughts, times when blooms are sparse or unavailable, as is the case during the winter months.
One bee can only produce a fraction of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime, whereas a colony of thousands can produce upwards of 70 pounds of honey annually! So when you reach for a bottle of honey at the grocery store, take pause, for that really is liquid gold, and it is so accessible to us despite what it takes to make it!
Honeybees are the definition of a team. Maybe we could take a life lesson from this. More can be accomplished with many hands working as a team toward a common goal. “All for one and one for all!”
Without bees we wouldn’t have honey; let’s take care of our buzzing friends!
Thank you for joining this very important movement to save our bees.