Why do bees make honey?
Bees make honey to prepare for winter. Honey is the food bees rely on when the weather turns cold. Bees live in highly socialized communities where each bee has its own job. The worker bees go from flower to flower gathering the nectar. A single bee may visit as many as a thousand flowers. Her load arriving back at the hive is about half her weight. Very impressive!
The nectar does not go into the bee’s stomach. It is collected in a special storage sac called the honey crop. As the worker bee swallows the nectar, she adds enzymes to it from special glands. This starts the process of breaking down the complex sucrose into simple sugars, like glucose and fructose.
When the worker bee gets to the hive, she passes the nectar to a hive bee that swallows it again, adding more enzymes. The hive bee puts the nectar into a honeycomb cell.
In its present state, the honey contains too much water. If left untreated, the honey would ferment and spoil. The hive bees fan the stored honey with their wings and cause much of the water to evaporate away. With the aid of air movement and heat, the water turns from liquid to a vapor. Bees figure that eighteen percent water is about right.
When the bees think the honey is ready, they cover the cell with wax to seal it. That’s when the beekeeper comes along and steals the honey.
The flowers also get something out of this deal. Plants use nectar as a way of attracting bees. As the bees gathers nectar, they also transfer pollen grains from one flower to another, thus pollinating other flowers.
Honey is a very stable food source. It resists bacteria, fungi, mold, and a host of other microbes. Honey can be stored for years without refrigeration.
Mention was made of female worker bees. They are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live only six weeks in the summer and four to nine months in winter. They literally work themselves to death. A hive will have about 50,000 worker bees in the busy season. They can sting once, but then they die.
The hive does have some male bees, called drones. They come from eggs that have not been fertilized. The word drone is derived from an old English word “dran” which literally means idler or lazy worker. The drone can’t sting. The sole job of the drone is to mate with the queen bee.
The drone has a barbed sex organ. Mating is followed by death. That’s death of the drone, of course. Hives will have several hundred drones. Come winter, they are of no use and are expelled from the hive.
If you choose to be a bee, be a queen. There is only one queen bee per hive. Queen bees live from three to five years. She mates once with several drone bees and remains fertile for life. The queen bee lays about 1500 eggs per day. Fertilized eggs become female worker bees and unfertilized eggs become the male drone bees.
When the queen dies, the other bees make a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a special royal jelly. This milky substance, made from digested pollen and nectar, is loaded with vitamin B. Long live the queen!