How do bees make honey?

Everyone knows bees make honey. There are 7 species of honeybees that work tirelessly to make honey as a food source for their colony. They always make more than they need and stockpile the honey as a type of insurance.

But how is it made?

The first step involves female forager, or worker, bees that leave the hive in search of nectar, flying from flower to flower in search of the sugar-water, which they suck up with their long tongues. These bees are around 20 days old when they first start foraging. The nectar is then stored in their honey stomach, also known as the crop – which is different to their food stomach. Once back at the hive, the forager bee regurgitates the nectar into another bee’s mouth – a processor bee, which then chews and spits the nectar into storage cells, or honeycomb cell, adding an enzyme called invertase. This enzyme is important as it breaks the sugars in the nectar down into glucose and fructose.

At this stage the honey still contains lots of water and is quite runny, so to remove the extra water and thicken the texture, they fan the honeycomb with their wings to increase evaporation. This keeps the inside of the hive nice and warm, as a warmer temperature means faster evaporation. Generally the inside of a bees hive will be between 32 and 35°C. By reducing the water content, it also acts as a preservative, and honey is one type of food that doesn’t spoil easily. Once it had been turned into honey they seal the honeycomb using wax and the honey will only be sealed off once the water content reaches around 18% (by comparison nectar has a water content of around 80%). Honeybees have a special wax gland on their abdomen, which converts the sugar from the honey into tiny wax flakes. The bees then chew these wax flakes to make them more malleable and lay the chewed wax over the honeycomb cells to seal in the honey.




See what’s going on in the animal kingdom every month with World of Animals magazine for only £3.99, or get a great deal by subscribing online or becoming a digital reader today.