Are All Bees Honey-Makers?
The simple answer to this question is no, not all bee species make honey. There’s actually only one type of bee that makes the honey that we benefit from. That bee is the Apis mellifera, also known as the European honeybee.
Honeybees live in large colonies, often containing between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals. The colony consists of one queen, workers, and male drones. Each bee has an important role within the colony, whether it’s gathering resources or caring for the young.
When the worker bees go foraging, they will visit approximately 100 flowers in one trip. They will gather pollen and nectar, which they bring back to the hive.
Bumblebees also make a type of honey, however, it’s not sold or eaten by humans. Bumblebees live in much smaller colonies compared to honeybees, consisting of about a hundred bees.
Their production of honey is much smaller, therefore, it’s not something we could benefit from. The bees produce honey for their own sustenance during the season. The queen bumblebee is the only one who will survive the winter. However, she builds up her food stores before winter and goes into hibernation, not needing food throughout this time.
Even though bumblebees don’t make a great amount of honey, they’re still crucial members of our ecosystem, however. They are important pollinators of many flowers and crops that are vital for our survival.
How Is Honey Made?
Honey begins life as nectar, a sugary substance extracted from flowers, which bees and other insects consume. It’s full of nutrients and gives a boost of much-needed energy to tired bees.
The honeybee worker has a special “honey sack” within her stomach, where she stores the nectar she has collected from the flowers. She might even consume a little of the nectar as she’s collecting it, if she feels hungry.
The worker bee is incredibly strong, and she can carry a quantity of nectar weighing almost as much as her body weight. Once her sack is full, she will return to the hive.
Back at the hive, the nectar will be passed on to one of the indoor worker bees. The bees will then chew on the nectar to soften it. As they’re chewing on the nectar, the bee adds an enzyme to the nectar from its mouth, called invertase.
Invertase breaks down sucrose into glucose and fructose. This is what gives the honey its texture, otherwise, the sucrose would crystallize.
The enzyme makes the sugars in the honey more digestible. It also makes the honey less likely to be infected during the next process.
Nectar is 70 percent water, therefore, the bees have to dry it in order to get the right consistency. The bees will flap their wings over the honeycombs, which draws out the moisture.
Before the worker bee heads out again to forage, she will comb, clean, and care for herself, so she can work more efficiently.
The type of honey the bees produce depends on the type of flower or plant the nectar is coming from. Did you know that the most expensive honey in the world is produced by wild honeybees in Turkey?
The wild bees live in caves and the honey is created on spherical cave walls. This makes the honey rich in minerals. In order to extract the honey, professional climbers have to be called in to help. Called Elvish honey, it sold its first kilogram for around $45,000. Today, 4.5 ounces will cost you about $6,800.
Why Do Bees Make Honey?
Even though honey is super delicious and healthy for us, we aren’t the reason for the bees’ honey-making. Honey is actually an essential part of a bee’s diet, especially during winter.
Because of the process in which the honey is made, it doesn’t spoil, therefore, it’s a great resource to store. During cold periods of the year, there may not be many flowers available. When there are no flowers, there is no nectar, and nectar is an important energy source.
The worker bees forage for nectar during spring and summer, these bees usually don’t live for more than eight weeks. Worker bees that are newly hatched in the fall will feed on the honey while they keep the queen alive during winter. Larvae in the colony will also feed on the honey year round.
Health Benefits of Honey
Honey has been used as a natural sweetener for centuries; it was in use long before sugar was invented. Honey is high in antioxidants and bioactive plant composites.
Good quality honey is also high in compounds such as flavonoids and organic acids. Certain types of honey, like buckwheat, have been shown to increase the antioxidant state of our blood.
Antioxidants are an important part of our diet, and honey has been shown to reduce strokes, heart attacks as well as some kinds of cancer. It can also help to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
Honey is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and can also be used as a topical treatment for burns and wounds. This was actually first carried out in ancient Egypt. Honey is also sometimes used to treat certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis.
Studies have also shown that honey might be beneficial for diabetics since it lowers cholesterol. Researchers are still not convinced, though, as honey has also been shown to increase blood sugar levels. However, it doesn’t affect levels as much as refined sugars.
Honey for general human consumption is exclusively produced by honeybees. Thousands of worker bees head out during spring and summer to collect nectar and pollen. The nectar is then brought back to the hive where it’s converted into honey.
Bees use honey as a food source and it’s especially important to them during winter. After knowing how much work the bees put into making honey, you might feel a little guilty, thinking you’re depriving them of their food. Don’t worry, though, the beekeepers always leave more than enough behind for the colony to thrive.