How Honeybees Make Honey and Their Importance to Our Ecosystem

Honeybees seem to be taken for granted in our fast-paced world. These tiny little creatures are extremely important to our ecosystem. Bees, in general, pollinate one-third of our food supply. Honey is an important part of our diet and has been touted as a healthy alternative to sugar. I’ve always wondered how honeybees make honey.

How Honeybees Make Honey

A honeybee gathers nectar from a flower. Image credit: Sputniktilt

NECTAR IS VITAL SO FLOWERS AND BLOSSOMS ARE VERY IMPORTANT

Nectar is vital to the process of making honey. Although nectar holds several complex sugars, it is almost 80 percent water. Bees can obtain nectar from clover, dandelions, flowers, berry bushes, and the blossoms of fruit trees. As frustrated as we are with the spring dandelions, they are very important to the bees. The dandelions are the first flowers that bees get nectar from each season.

Honeybees have tube-like tongues which they use as straws to draw out nectar from flowers. This nectar is stored in one of their two stomachs. Yes, honeybees have two stomachs; one to store nectar and their regular stomach. This second stomach can store up to 70 mg of nectar. In order to obtain this much nectar, a honeybee has to visit 100 to 1500 flowers. So having flowers in your garden is extremely important.

How Honeybees Make Honey

A honeybee works to store nectar in the honeycomb for the winter. Image credit: Piscigate

HOW HONEYBEES MAKE HONEY IS A MIRACLE OF NATURE

Once the honeybee returns to the hive with his stomach full of nectar he goes to the worker bees. The worker bees, in turn, use their long tongues to suck the nectar out of the honeybee’s stomach. The worker bee gnaws the nectar for nearly a half hour. This gnawing uses the enzymes in the bee’s stomach to break down the complex sugars in the nectar, creating simple sugars. These simple sugars will be less likely to attract bacteria in the hive and be more digestible to sustain the bees throughout the winter. When the nectar is ready the bees store it in the honeycomb. Here in the honeycomb, any water that is in the nectar will evaporate. The bees fan the nectar with their wings to make it dry. The syrup in the honeycomb eventually becomes thicker. When it is thick enough the bees use a plug of wax to seal it off. This stored honey is eaten by the bees throughout the winter. A colony of bees can eat 120 to 200 pounds of honey in a year. This process of how honeybees make honey is a true miracle of nature.

Another amazing fact of nature is that honeybees can produce wax from their bodies by eating honey. That is where they get the wax to plug up the single cylinders in the honeycomb and how they make the honeycomb. For a small insect, this is amazing.

How Honeybees Make Honey

Jars of honey with the honeycomb can be purchased in specialty stores. Image credit: Akarlovic

EACH HONEYBEE IS IMPORTANT AND VITAL TO OUR ECOSYSTEM

Each honeybee is extremely important. It takes thousands of bees to produce hundreds of pounds of honey per year. One single bee can only produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey during its entire life. This is huge! Honeybees are extremely important to us and the ecosystem.  Bees, in general, are responsible for pollinating most of our fruits and vegetables. Our modern food system would be in turmoil if not for pollination. A fruit, seed, or nut cannot grow unless a bloom has been pollinated. The bees transfer the pollen from the male part of the flower to the stigma which is the female part of the flower. Without pollination, at least one-third of the staples in our food supply would not exist. The next time you eat honey please think of the thousands of small honeybees that worked hard to create this sweet delicacy.

How Honeybees Make Honey

One honeybee can only produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime. Image credit: Ken Thomas

The process of how honeybees make honey is complex and fragile. Neonicotinoids and environmental pollution have decreased the global population of honeybees. The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has been reviewing the effect of these neonicotinoid pesticides on honeybees. They are also working to diminish the release of neonicotinoid-contaminated dust throughout planting season. This is when commercial bees are expected to come into contact with the insecticide.

So please be kind to the honeybees and all of the bees. They are an integral part of our ecosystem and food supply. Next time you eat honey on your biscuit or cereal remember how hard the honeybee works to create that sweet treat. You will appreciate it much more than ever.

31 Comments

  1. Although I have a healthy fear of bees I know that they are absolutely essential. If I wasn’t so scared of them I would probably have a hive in my backyard. They are so important to the ecosystem.

  2. We put some of our fields into a special program to attract and bring back the honey bees. They play such a key part and we need to protect them.

  3. Wow, I had no idea. i like that I learned this today. I knew they were important, but not why. Great blog post. Happy that we planted so many bee-loving flowers this year.

    • Thank you, Jenn! I love nature and have lots of sedum plants. When they bloom the bees come in swarms. I have to scold my lab because she keeps sticking her nose in the sedum. Luckily she hasn’t been stung yet.

  4. I love honey bees, and I definitely thing we need to be doing more to help rebuild their ecosystem. If they go, we go, and I’m not so much looking forward to that.

    • That must be difficult to live with that allergy. I’m lucky that I’m not allergic to them. I work in the gardens and the bees buzz around me and I just leave them alone and they leave me alone.

  5. Honeybees are so important to our ecosystem. Our school had a project one year where we planted wildflowers to attract honeybees. It was an awesome learning experience for the kiddos.

  6. I actually knew a lot about the honey making process, my old neighbors kept bees. When their water fountain stopped working, they all came over to ours and it terrified me! I had no idea where they were coming from, that’s when I found out my neighbor was beekeeping lol. But it was nice to read about the process and refresh my memory!

  7. I never knew how bees made honey. I have had this conversation with my kids about honeybees being important. Oftentimes people kill the bees before anything happens. We have told our kids to let them be as long as they are not bothering them. They are so important to nature!

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