October 10, 2016

How Bees Make Honey

Everyone knows that honey bees make honey, but most are unaware of exactly how they produce this liquid gold. This article will give you an insight into the work of the honey bee.

For honey bees building honey stores to ensure the survival of the colony through seasons of little or no nectar is what their life is about. From about three weeks old, when a bee becomes a forager (name for a worker bee over three weeks old who works outside the hive), to the day she literally drops dead from exhaustion at about six weeks old, a worker bee collects nectar, pollen, propolis or water depending upon the needs of her colony at any one time. Note, it is only female bees that are workers and foragers within a honey bee colony.

It is nectar that is used to produce honey and it is calculated that a honey bee needs to visit several hundred flowers on one foraging flight to fill up with nectar She sucks the nectar from the flowers using her proboscis and then stores it in a special honey stomach, for transport back to the hive. Here enzymes will begin work on the nectar.

Once back at the hive the forager bee passes her nectar load to a house bee, this is a worker bee below the age of three weeks, the age at which she will also will begin foraging duties. The forager bee adds an enzyme to the nectar as it passes through its mouth. This enzyme is invertase and it is produced by the hypopharangeal glands which have two outlets just inside the bee’s mouth. Nectar is mainly composed of  sucrose (a disaccharide) and water. The enzyme invertase turns the sucrose into glucose and fructose (monosaccharides).

Other enzymes are added as the house bee carries the nectar to where it is to be stored. The nectar is then spread around a comb cell and the bees then work on reducing the moisture content. The bees do this by fanning their wings over the comb to evaporate the water.

Once the moisture level is reduced to 17% then it can be called honey and the bees will seal off each cell with a cap of wax. By reducing the moisture level of the honey the bees have ensured that it will not go off, as no living organisms can survive in so little moisture. The wax cap on the honey prevents moisture entering and it is at this stage that the beekeeper knows that they can harvest the honey.

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