do bees eat honey

Do Bees Eat Their Own Honey?

Have you ever seen a honeybee collecting pollen, or picked up a jar of honey in your local grocery store, and wondered, “Do bees eat honey as well as making it?” Maybe you’ll be surprised to hear that bees don’t just make honey for humans to eat.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about reasons for bees eating honey. You’ll discover when bees eat honey and why. I’ll also tell you what other purposes bees use honey for.

Do Bees Eat Honey?

Yes, surprisingly, all species of bees that make honey also actually eat it.

Not every species of bee that makes honey is a honeybee. Bees are a diverse species—there are thousands of different types. Some of these do make honey too, but not much of it.

True honeybees are members of the Apis genus. There are seven species in this classification. All of these species produce large quantities of honey.

What Is Honey?

It’s important to understand what honey is before we proceed. To the bees, it’s more than just a sweet treat. Bees make honey from plant nectar or honeydew. Honeydew is the excretions of insects that have eaten nectar.

Nectar is nutritionally essential for bees. This sugary substance is broken down by bees into carbohydrates.

Pollen is the other part of the bees’ diet. These flowery grains are packed with protein, the other nutrient bees require.

Bees convert nectar into honey to be able to store it. Bees that can make honey have a honey stomach to transport nectar. This special pouch can be filled with nectar that won’t be digested.

Honey is made by dehydrating the nectar. The process of making honey can differ from species to species.

In the form of honey, the nectar can be preserved. If it isn’t sapped of moisture, however, the nectar could ferment and become inedible.

Why Do Bees Eat Their Own Honey?

There are a few circumstances under which bees eat their own honey. This processed plant nectar is consumed for the following reasons:

Feeding Drones

Male bees are known as drones. The males of certain social species are avid honey consumers. Social bees produce drones seasonally. These males are born to mate, propagate the species, and die in the process.

This may sound unpleasant, but there is an upside. Honeybee drones enjoy a life of ease compared to the colony workers. Drones don’t perform hard labor like the workers. They stay inside the beehive, eating honey stores and resting.

bee and honeycomb

The males are a considerable drain on the beehive’s resources. Each drone subsists primarily off stored honey. The workers permit this gluttony only while the drone is waiting to mate. Afterward, drones aren’t tolerated. Workers prevent unmated drones from returning to the hive. Since they can’t forage for their own food, they will die.

Refueling Workers

The worker castes of most true honeybees eat honey. This hardworking caste eats honey to refuel after expeditions out of the hive.

Honeybee workers spend a significant portion of their lives foraging. Workers gather nectar and pollen and return it to the beehive. There aren’t any days off—while they’re awake, worker bees are working. Foraging trips are tiring for these bees.

The working honeybee burns energy by flying and carrying heavy loads. Honey provides the bee with the strength it needs to continue.

Producing Heat

Honeybee workers are able to metabolize honey for heat production. Controlling the temperature in the beehive is crucial. If the temperature drops too low, bee eggs and larvae could be at risk.

Making Beeswax

Beeswax is a type of wax some species of bee make. They don’t make it externally: it’s produced internally, from their abdomens.

Bees use this wax to construct combs and other structures in their beehives or nests. To be able to make beeswax, bees need carbohydrates (glucose) as well as protein.

For bees that build large structures out of beeswax, honey stores are crucial. Honeybees craft cells or combs out of beeswax. They also seal honey cells and pupating larvae cells with beeswax.

Winter Stores

Bees can be either seasonal or perennial. Seasonal species, such as bumblebees, die out before winter. Only mated queens are able to hibernate and re-emerge the following spring.

Other species, like honeybees, live year-round. To be able to survive through the winter, the bees need to eat.

beehives in winter

Since the majority of plants die off in the winter, nectar and pollen aren’t available. Stored nectar in the form of honey is their alternative food source.

Emergency Stores

True honeybees ensure there is always enough honey for the colony’s survival. Other species, like bumblebees, have significantly smaller stores.

These bees rely on there being available pollen and nectar sources. Bumblebees are better pollinators due to this habit. They spend more time in the field eating and pollinating than honeybees.

bumblebee
CC Image courtesy of mattx27

In the event that food supplies are compromised, there are emergency stores. However, there isn’t enough honey to keep the colony alive in the long term.

What Else Do Bees Do With Honey?

Social bees use honey to feed their young. Bees start their lives out as larvae. As a larva, a bee is helpless. Resembling a tiny worm, larvae can’t do much aside from eating, wriggling, and excreting waste.

Solitary bees leave caches of nourishment near or on their eggs. When the larvae hatch they will have readily available nourishment.

Comparatively, social bees are involved from the moment the larvae hatch. The worker caste cleans and replenishes the food for the larvae when needed.

Bumblebee queens will also take care of their first batch of young, at least initially. To be able to do so, they need food supplies nearby. Since the queen is in a vulnerable position, she is highly defensive at this time. Female bumblebees can sting more than once, unlike honeybees.

Before laying eggs, the bumblebee queen makes beeswax scales to craft pots. She then fills these pots with nectar. This way, she’s prepared to feed her first brood when they hatch. Once the first worker bees mature, they take over future feeding duties.

Along with royal jelly and bee bread, honeybees feed honey to their larvae too. Every member of a honeybee colony eats honey, albeit in different amounts.

Summary

Now you understand the various reasons for bees eating honey and also what other purposes honey serves for them, too. Responsible beekeepers make sure the colony always has enough to eat when harvesting honey.

The next time you’re eating honey, think about what you share in common with bees. They’ve worked hard to produce it and need it to survive, and we appreciate that they make enough to share with us mere mortals.

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