Everyone knows honey bees make honey. But what about bumble bees?
In one sense, it could be said that bumble bees have their own version of honey – but it is not really honey exactly, at least, not in the way we think of honey.
Honey is nectar gathered by honey bees, and transformed into honey stores for winter to feed the colony.
Bumble bees do not create winter food stores, and so the nectar they gather does not undergo a transformation period to create the honey we are familiar with.
What bumble bees have then, is short-term nectar stores for food, and in comparison with honey bees, bumble bees store only a tiny amount.
This, along with other reasons, means that humans do not harvest bumble bee nectar stores for human consumption (at least, not in the West) – although there are indeed animals that will happily eat a bumble bee nest, complete with nectar stores and larvae.
Would you like more detail? If so, read on.
In short, honey is actually the winter food stores of the honey bee. It is an edible sweet substance made by the bees from nectar they have gathered from flowers.
The honey bees gather the nectar and take it back to the hive or nest, where the bees regurgitate it, mix it with the 'bee enzyme' and pass it from bee to bee. The bees then deposit the nectar into the wax, hexagonal honeycomb cells, and it is then fanned by the bees so that it becomes thicker and more concentrated.
Once the honey is ready, it is ‘capped’ by the bees, which means they cover the honeycombs with a layer of wax.
However, it is also when the honey has been capped that beekeepers harvest honey, because they now know the honey is ready - the gathered nectar has been fully transformed.
A skilled beekeeper will be aware of how much can be taken from the hive for humans to eat, leaving the rest for the bees.
This is an over-simplification of the process of making honey, but you can read more detail on my page what is honey?.
When a queen bumble bee emerges from hibernation, she feeds, finds a suitable location for a nest, and begins to establish her colony.
In so doing, she makes a nectar pot from wax which she secretes from the underside of her abdomen. She then gathers nectar from flowers, and she transfers this nectar to the nectar pots. The bumble bee queen will feed on the nectar herself from the nectar pots, as she incubates her eggs.
As the queen rears her young, the new bumble bees will emerge and they will also feed on nectar from the nectar pots.
It could be said that in one sense, this is the bumble bee version of honey, but as stated, it is not the same as that produced by honey bees - there is no extended transformation period, and the nectar is gathered and stored in the wax pots in much smaller quantities.
Below is a picture showing the inside of a bumble bee nest with a young colony.
This is because bumble bees do not need to store food over the winter period – i.e. they have no need for ‘winter stores’. Bumble bee colonies do not have much shorter life cycles that honey bees have. At the end of the season, only the new queens will survive and hibernate through the winter, whilst the rest of the colony (the older queen, workers and males) will not. This means there is no need for bumble bees to store food to feed the colony during winter months.
bee colonies should thrive through the winter, and because of this,
they need winter stores – the honey.
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