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How Do Bees Make Honey? A Step-By-Step of How Honey Is Made

wellbee / Community  / How Do Bees Make Honey? A Step-By-Step of How Honey Is Made

How Do Bees Make Honey? A Step-By-Step of How Honey Is Made

Honey is nature’s dessert – free, readily available, and downright delicious.  

For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have enjoyed the sticky sweetness found inside beehives, and, today, the honey industry is valued at US$8–9 billion worldwide.

Of course, for as long as we’ve been eating honey, we’ve also been wondering: how exactly do bees create it?

We’re going to walk you through the step-by-step process of how bees make honey, as well as answer interesting questions like why bees make honey, and what they do with it.  Keep reading to learn all about this delicious natural treat.  

Do all bees make honey?

There are over 16,000 species of bees that we know about across the world, but only one of them makes honey harvested by humans: Apis mellifera, or the honey bee.

 

A Step-by-Step Guide to How Bees Make Honey

Step 1: Gather the nectar

Each day, worker bees from the forager caste leave their hive to search for nectar and pollen, both of which are found in flowers.  

Because bees pass the pollen-bearing structures of flowers to get to the good stuff, they’ll often get covered in pollen during foraging.  The small pollen particles cling to their fur, and are then distributed to other flowers that the bees visit via the same process.  This is how pollination works.  

Bees extract nectar from the flowers with their straw-like tongues (known as ‘proboscises’), and store it in their second stomachs (known as ‘crops’).  They can also transport pollen, which is stored in special ‘pollen baskets’ on their hind legs. 

Step 2: Transport it to the hive

Once the bee is full of honey and nectar, it returns to the hive.  During this journey, the nectar stored in their second stomachs mixes with digestive enzymes that alter its chemical structure to make it better for storage. 

Step 3: Pass the nectar to another worker

When the bee makes it home to its hive, it will regurgitate the nectar into the mouth of a worker from the food storage caste.  The nectar is then passed from bee to bee, until it’s eventually vomited into a honeycomb.  

Step 4: Fan the honey

At this point, the nectar is still very thin and fluid – more like sweet water than the honey that humans use.  To help thicken the nectar, workers will fan the honey with their wings, creating a manual evaporation process.  The result?  Completely natural honey!   

Step 5: Seal up the honeycomb 

Once the nectar is thick enough, worker bees secrete bee wax, which they chew and mould until they can use it to seal up the cell containing the honey.  They can then use the honey as a food source over winter, when flowers (and food) are scarce.      

For Kids: How do bees make honey?

Got kids?  Explain to them how honey is made with the following section.

Bees, just like us, love how yummy honey is!  They make honey by flying around outside and looking for flowers.

Flowers have nectar inside them.  Bees love nectar!  They buzz their way into the flowers, and then eat as much nectar as their little tummies can fit.

When they’re nice and full, they fly back to their bee friends at the beehive, and give the nectar to them.

Their friends store the nectar in little rooms all around the beehive, where it becomes honey!  Yum!

When bees get hungry over winter, they might snack on some tasty honey.  Honey is very good for bees, and is also good for people.  Do you like honey?      

How do bees make honeycomb and wax?

Bees secrete wax from the age of about one week.  It’s produced by wax glands in the bee’s abdomen, using hydrocarbons and fatty acids.

Bees use it to seal up the hive’s hexagonal cells, which store eggs, pollen, and honey.    

Why do bees make honey?

Bees make honey because, naturally, honeybees live in climates that have cold winters without flowers.  The bees forage for nectar and pollen in spring and summer, then store it in preparation for winter and autumn.  

Both pollen (mixed with water and nectar to form ‘bee bread’) and honey are nutritious food sources that help keep bees alive inside the hive.  

Conclusion

Next time you open a jar of honey, think about the incredible time and effort it cost thousands of honeybees to make.  

Foraged from fields and forests, forager bees transported the nectar back to their hives, where it was passed from bee to bee and sealed inside an airtight cell, before being harvested as honey by humans.

Honey might be nature’s dessert, but it’s also the product of an incredible, time-intensive process.  Take a moment to appreciate how awesome it is next time you add some to your breakfast!

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Duncan Croker

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