Do you know how honey is produced by the bees?

If you don’t know how do bees produce honey until now after reading of this text you will know very well the whole process…

The western, or European honeybee, pollinates three fourths of the fruits, veggies and nuts that we eat. We’d be in trouble without them. Of course, there’s a reason we don’t call them zucchini bees, almond bees, or apple bees. They also give us honey. One healthy hive will make and consume more than 50 kg of honey in a single year, and that takes a lot of work.

Honey is made from nectar, but it doesn’t come out of flowers as that golden, sticky stuff. After finding a suitable food source, bees dive in head first, using their long, specially adapted tongues to slurp tiny sips of nectar into one of two stomachs. A single bee might have to drink from more than a thousand flowers to fill its honey stomach, which can weigh as much as the bee itself when full of nectar. On the way back to the hive, digestive enzymes are already working to turn that nectar into sweet gold. When she returns to the hive, the forager bee will vomit the nectar into the mouth of another worker. That bee will vomit it into another bee’s mouth, and so on.

honey production

This game of regurgitation telephone is an important part of the honey making process, since each bee adds more digestive enzymes to turn long chains of complex sugars in the raw nectar into simple monosaccharides like fructose and glucose. At this point, the nectar is still pretty watery, so the bees beat their wings and create an air current inside the hive to evaporate and thicken the nectar, finally capping the cell with beeswax so the enzyme rich bee barf can complete its transformation into honey. Because of its low water content and acidic pH, honey isn’t a very inciting place for bacteria or yeast spoilage, and it has an incredibly long shelf life in the hive or in your pantry. Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back thousands of years, pretty much unspoiled.

honey production

For one pound of honey, tens of thousands of foraging bees will together fly more than three times around the world and visit up to 8 million flowers. That takes teamwork and organization, and although they can’t talk they do communicate… with body language. Foragers dance to tell other bees where to find food. A circle dance means flowers are pretty close to the hive, but for food that’s farther away, they get their waggle on. The waggle dance of the honey bee was first decoded by Karl Von Frisch, and it’s definitely one of the coolest examples of animal communication in nature. First the bee walks in a straight line, wagging its body back and forth and vibrating its wings, before repeating in a figure eight. Whatever angle the bee walks while waggling tells the other bees what direction to go. Straight up the line of honeycombs, then the food is in the direction of the sun. If the dance is pointed to the left or right, the other bees know to fly in that angle relative to the sun. The longer the waggle, the farther away the food is, and the food is better, the more excited the bee shakes its body.

honey production

If that’s not amazing enough, even if they can’t see the sun itself, they can infer where it is and the time of day by reading the polarization of light in the blue sky. A single bee is a pretty simple creature, but together they create highly complex and social societies. There’s three main classes in a beehive: drones, workers and queens. When a new queen is born, she immediately runs around and kills her sisters, because there can be only one. During mating season, she’ll fly to a distant hive to mate with several males and store away the sperm, which she’ll use back at her home hive to lay more than a thousand eggs a day throughout the rest of her life. Any unfertilized eggs, those that don’t join up with sperm, will mature into male drones, which means they only have one set of chromosomes. But fertilized eggs are all genetically female, destined t become either queens or workers. Queens do the egglaying of course, but worker bees are the backbone of the beehive.

So what makes most females become workers, while just one wears the hive crown? A baby bee’s diet activate genetic programming that shifts its entire destiny. Every bee larva is initially fed a nutrient rich food called royal jelly, but after a few days, worker bee babies are switched to a mixture of pollen and honey called “bee bread”. But queens eat royal jelly their whole life, even as adults. Scientists used to think it was just royal jelly that put queens on the throne, but just last year they discovered one chemical in bee bread, the food that queens don’t get, that keeps worker bees sterile. Being a queen seems to be as much about what bees don’t eat as what they do. Making honey is insect farming on its grandest scale, with intricate societies cooperating to make a food fit for bear tummies bid and small… with the pleasant side effect of pollinating most of the world’s flowering plants.

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