Why Do Bees Make Honey?

Updated: 10th February 2020

A chunk of honey comb with honey oozing from the wax cellsHow do bees make a chunk of comb oozing honey, like this?

 

In short, honey bees make honey as a way of storing food to eat over the cooler winter period, when they are unable to forage and there are fewer flowers from which to gather food.


Honey is ideal for bees - it is full of nutrients and is a great energy food, because it is high in sugars.

When you consider that whilst flying, a honey bee's wings beat about 11,400 times per minute, you can guess they need a great deal of energy!

They also beat their wings to regulate the temperature in the hive - even when they are not flying out to forage for food, there is tremendous activity in the hive, and all this work requires energy.

Honey bee foraging on pink rose, showing pollen basketsBeautiful honey bee worker foraging on a rose


How is honey made?

You will find a very full description of this process on my page How Do Bees Make Honey? (but the question 'why?' is different!)

However, briefly:

  • Honey bees convert the sweet nectar they gather from flowers into honey.
  • The nectar is stored in honeycombs.
  • The nectar they are storing starts to concentrate (this means the water content is reduced).  This process prevents bacteria and other nasties from forming in the honeycomb, because bacteria and fungi cannot multiply in high concentrations of sugar, and this is why honey keeps indefinitely!  This means that honey is a form of food the bees can store, without it going bad.

    Aah, the wisdom of honey bees!  
Honey bee queen (with a white spot of paint) and worker honey bees on capped wax cells.Honey bee queen (with a white spot of paint) and worker honey bees.

Now, again, if you are wanting to find out HOW bees make honey in greater detail, then see this link.


But for now, why not read on...



Why do bees make honey, then store it?  Why don't they simply eat it as they go along?


Well imagine this. You're stuck in your home, and the weather is so bad, that you're unable to go out and get food, and even if you could go out for food, there wouldn't be much around anyway!

That's what it's like for honey bees in winter.  Whilst they may be able to forage on a dry, cold day, it's unlikely there will be many flowers for them to forage on.

For this reason, they collect, then store their food to last them through the winter months.

Then, come spring, the weather will warm up, the flowers will begin to appear, and they'll be able to collect food again.


Is it alright for humans to steal the honey, then?

Honey bee foraging on Geranium flower.Honey bee foraging on Geranium flower.


Assuming there is plenty of food available for the bees from plant and tree blossoms, and assuming the weather is okay for the honey bees to venture out, then hopefully there is plenty of honey so that it's alright for humans to take some of it.

Remember that in the wild, predation is natural. Other insects, mammals and even birds (often with the help of another predator) will steal some of the honey from honey bee nests! 

Skilled beekeepers have a good idea about how much honey they can take without harming a colony.  



What Is Honey?

A jar of soft set honey.A jar of soft set honey.

There's more to honey than meets the eye!  Honey is a sugary substance made by bees using the nectar they have collected from flowers. The bees mix this with a special substance called the 'bee enzyme'.

A basic scientific formula is as follows:



Sucrose (nectar)
+
invertase (bee enzyme)
=
fructose + glucose (honey).

There are different presentations (set, comb honey and so on) and there are also subtle differences between honeys from different bee hives, depending on where the bees have been foraging.  For further information, take a look at my page: Types Of Honey.


A jar of 'comb honey' - also called 'chunk honey'.A jar of 'comb honey' - also called 'chunk honey'.


Which Bees Make Honey?
Do All Bees Make Honey?


The honey you are familiar with, is made only by honey bees.  Bumble bees don't make honey as such, but in a sense, they make their own version of it.  You can read more about this 'bumble bee honey' here. For bumble bees, it's more a case of storing nectar for a short time period, because bumble bee colonies do not last as long as honey bee colonies do. 

Honey bee colonies have to feed a colony of workers plus the queen through the winter.  With bumble bees, only the queen survives, and the rest of the colony will die. 

However, there is another type of bee, referred to as the Melipona, which is a genus of stingless bees, and which makes a type of honey in small quantities, but this type of honey is not widely available.


Read more about stingless bees or take a look at the following pages you may find interesting below:



Link image to the honey bee life cycle - a honey bee foraging on a rose.

The Honey Bee Life Cycle
Read


Did you know?

Elephants are afraid of bees!

Click here to watch a video!








Car Stickers And More

Save the bees plant flowers car bumper sticker
Don't worry bee happy car bumper sticker
Bee kind bee-themed car bumper sticker



Image links to the page 'why do bees need nectar and pollen?'  Image is of a bumble bee foraging on pink sedum flowers.

Why do bees need nectar and pollen?

Read




Do bees sleep?
Apparently they do, but how do we know?

Read

Image of sleeping honey bees, links to the page 'Do bees sleep?'




Honey bee life cycle
Go from Why Do Bees Make Honey to this page about the life of the honey bee.

Honey bee facts
Some quick, fun facts about honey bees here!




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