How Do Bees Make Honey?
You’ve likely heard at one point or another that honey is “bee vomit” but is that really true? Do all bees make honey or just a few, and of those that do…how do bees actually make honey? Let’s find out.
Which bees make honey?
Before we get started, first we must understand that honey is food to bees. It is the primary food source that gets them through the winter.
It’s also only produced by honey bees. According to Backyard Beekeeping, “the most well-known of the honey-makers are in the genus Apis. The genus is divided into three sub-groups: the cavity-nesting honey bees, the dwarf honey bees, and the giant honey bees.
The cavity-nesting group includes Apis mellifera—the European honey bee—and three other species, including the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. Among beekeepers, the Asian honey bee is the second most popular species worldwide.
The dwarf honey bees, Apis florea and Apis andreniformis, are small bees that nest in trees and shrubs. Each colony builds only one small comb, which is exposed to open air and is usually wrapped around a tree branch. The females have tiny stingers that are barely able to penetrate human skin, but they produce so little honey that beekeepers don’t raise them.
The giant honey bee group comprises two species, Apis dorsata, and Apis laboriosa. These bees nest high on limbs, cliffs, and buildings, especially in Nepal and northern India. Because they are large and fiercely defensive, they can be deadly to those not trained to handle them properly.”
How do bees make honey?
First, honeybees must visit your garden in search of their main ingredient: nectar, a sugary liquid found in flowers. Access to plentiful raw material is key to honey production. If you’d like to help the bees, consider planting some bee-friendly flowers in your garden.
Since nectar is the principal ingredient, it plays a significant role in the flavor of the final product. Honey harvested from bees that feed primarily in lavender fields will taste markedly different from those that frequent citrus groves.
Our buzzy little friends extract the nectar using their long, tube-shaped tongues and store the substance in their “crop.” If you know anything about birds, that word may be familiar as birds have them too.
A crop is essentially a “pre-stomach”—food is stored in reserve and partially digested before either moving to the stomach for consumption, or regurgitated to feed their young.
A bee’s crop has a slightly different function. While stored there, the nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it suitable for long-term storage.
Is honey “bee vomit”?
Here’s where that idea comes from:
“When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating the liquid into the other bee’s mouth.” (LiveScience)
These house bees “chew” the mixture to further process it, and then deposit it into the honeycomb for storage.
At this point, the nectar is still relatively liquid. Once stored in the honeycomb, evaporation can begin. Bees can hurry the process along by “fanning” the comb with their wings.
Once the water content has dropped from 80% to 20%, the honey is ready to be sealed into the comb. The bees use a secretion from their abdomen that will eventually harden into beeswax. Doing so keeps out bacteria, mold, and moisture—allowing the honey to be stored virtually indefinitely.
Our precious bee friends spend thousands of hours flying hundreds of miles to create just a small amount of honey. The next time you shop for ethically harvested honey (like that sold by our friends at the Ormond Bee Company) remember that regardless of the cost, as far as the bees are concerned, you’re getting a real bargain!
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest ControlTags: bees, fun, honey, honeybee, the more you know