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.
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 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.
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.
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.