So Why Do Bees Make Honey?

Why do bees make honey?

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.

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!

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 cold for you, that you're unable to go out and get food. Oh, and even if you could, there wouldn't be much around anyway!

That's what it's like for honey bees in winter in cold weather.

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?

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!

However, I feel the real skill of the beekeeper is in knowing how much the bees need, and how much can be taken. Some beekeepers will only take a modest amount of honey. Some beekeepers will also ensure they keep plenty of the bees' own honey in store during the winter, in case the bees need it. (Note, it is important that honey bees are only fed their own honey, to ensure viruses and disease do not spread between different bee colonies).

However, some beekeepers do remove all the honey from bees, and only provide sugar in return. Sugar is in no way as nutritious for the bees as honey is. However, it is worth remembering that these practices exist largely because of human demands that put pressure on beekeepers and bees to produce more, because people wish to buy it from the supermarket - and many wish to buy it as cheaply as possible.

If we want things to change, we need to look at ourselves. We could support a local beekeeper we trust - this would be better for honey bees and other pollinators.

We could also regard honey as a precious treat for which a fair price needs to be paid, rather than the cheapest price possible. That said, this is not always so easy for families on low incomes.  Read my tips about buying honey.

So What Is Honey?

There's more to honey than meets the eye! 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: What Is Honey?

Which Bees Make Honey?
Do All Bees Make Honey?

The honey you are familiar with, is made only by honey bees.  Bumblebees don't make honey as such, but in a sense, they make their own version of it.  You can read more about this here. For bumblebees, it's more a case of storing nectar for a short time period, because bumblebee 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 bumblebees, 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:

Did you know?

Elephants are afraid of bees!

Click here to watch a video!

The Honey Bee Life Cycle

Why do bees need nectar and pollen?


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


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

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

Honey bee deaths explored
There's been much news about honey bee deaths and colony collapse disorder. What's happening to our bees, and why are bees disappearing?

Honey bees
Go from Why Do Bees Make Honey to this page featuring more general information about honey bees here.

Save the bees!
We don't have to wait for governments or anyone else. Go from Why Do Bees Make Honey to these ten tips outlining what you can do to help the bees.

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