How Do Bees Make Honey?

Have you ever wondered how bees make honey?

How do they convert flower nectar into the delicious golden fluid we pour on our waffles and mix in our echinacea tea when we get sick?

It turns out that making honey is such a highly industrious process, it makes building the pyramids a snap.

To make a single pound of honey, the bees that produce it must collectively travel fifty-five thousand miles!

However, they usually don't stray further than about a four mile radius from their hive.

This means a lot of trips back and forth between the neighborhood flowers and the hive.

As bees visit each blossom, they use their long straw like tongues to suck up the flower nectar which consists of a dilute solution of about thirty percent sucrose (common table sugar) and seventy percent water.

They store this nectar in a honey sac, sometimes called their honey stomach, not to be confused with their real stomach.

When the honey sac is full, the weight of the nectar will be almost equal to their body weight.

Still, the bees manage to carry this heavy payload back to the hive, a herculean effort.

Once they arrive back at the hive, they pass the honey to other worker bees who chew externally on the nectar using their mandibles (hard mouth parts).

The purpose of this is to remove much of the water in the nectar concentrating it down into a much thicker liquid that consists of only around twenty percent water.

However, even at this much more concentrated state, the liquid is still not quite as thick as honey.

At this stage, the bees put droplets of this more concentrated fluid into individual hexagonal cells of the beeswax honeycomb.

The bees then fan the thickened fluid so it loses a little more water and obtains the viscosity that we know as honey, about eighteen percent water content. 

Then the bees seal the honey inside a cell within the honeycomb with a beeswax cap to protect it from becoming contaminated, much like we seal canning jars to preserve food.

So, that's the overview of how do bees make honey but we need to go back and fill in a couple of details.

There is an enzyme called invertase in a bee's mouth that converts the sucrose in flower nectar into two simpler sugars, glucose and fructose.

After this chemical reaction occurs, another enzyme called glucose oxidase converts a small amount of the glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide.

It is this gluconic acid that converts honey into a highly acidic (low pH) medium that retards the growth of bacteria and fungi.

This is how honey can can be stored inside the waxy honeycomb for years without it going rancid.

This is also why it doesn't spoil for the winter when bees depend on it for food when the flowers are not blooming.

Thus, this is the story of how do bees make honey.

We'll leave you with this astonishing fact that you can think about the next time you're spooning honey into your tea.

It takes eight bees working full time for their entire lifetimes to make one single teaspoon of honey!