Einstein once said,” If all the bees disappeared from the face of the Earth, then men would only have 4 years to live”. Isn’t that scary how these tiny ½ inch creatures could lead to our extinction. But how? So today lets learn the role of bees in our society.
We all know that honey bees are popular for producing honey. What makes it more special is that the honey produced by them has a long shelf life. It could be preserved for years without being spoilt. But did you know not all honey bees make honey. Insects like bumblebees, stingless bees, and even honey wasp can produce a small amount of honey. But the actual honey we consume today is the product of 7 species of true honey bees. Keep reading if you’re curious to know how bees produce honey.
There are 3 main classes in a beehive -Drones or male honey bee, workers or female honey bees and queen bee. However, the hard work of producing, storing and consuming honey is done by female worker bees or foragers. They are also responsible for to protect and defend the beehive and take care of the queen. There is only one queen bee in a beehive. The queen bee is only responsible for producing large amount of eggs in order to mate with male honey bees. It is estimated that a single queen bee can lay up to a quarter-million eggs in a single year and more than a million over a lifetime. Male bees are only responsible to mate with the queen bee. Honey is produced by female worker bees. They are the one’s who buzz from flower to flower sucking up all the sugary nectar and storing it into their stomach.
A single worker bee might have to drink from more than a thousand flowers to fills its honey stomach, which can weigh as much as the bee itself when full with nectar. Once the worker honey bee returns to the beehive with nectar stored in its stomach, it vomit’s the nectar into processor bee’s mouth. In the processor bee’s mouth and stomach, an enzyme called invertase is added to the nectar. Invertase breaks the nectar into simple sugars like glucose and fructose. Then it vomits the partially converted nectar into another processor bee’s mouth, who also adds more invertase, helping break down the nectar. This process goes on until most of the nectar is converted into simple sugars. Then, the mixture of simple sugar is stored in a honeycomb capping the cells with beeswax so the enzyme-rich bee barf can complete its transformation into honey.
At this point, the mixture is still water. It’s got a water content of about 70%, while the actual honey has the water content of about less than 19%. So to remove the extra water, bees flap their wings which evaporates and thickens the mixture to eventually form honey. Because of its low water content and acidic pH, honey doesn’t become any kind of breeding ground for bacteria or yeast spoilage. This leads to a very long shelf life for honey. No wonder in case of honey, its actually true “old is gold”.
WHY DO BEES PRODUCE HONEY?
Bees make honey as a source of food security. It is safely stored within the hive to eat during the Times of scarcity. Just like humans, bees need food and shelter to stay alive. That’s why bees make beehive to store honey, pollen, eggs and so on. If you ever see a beehive you’ll notice that it is composed of tightly packed hexagonal cells. They are called as honeycombs. Honeycombs are made by honey wax that bees produce themselves. However, they produce very less amount of this wax. Hence ,they require a shape that would give them maximum storage using minimum beeswax.
Now consider if each cell of a honeycomb was a circle, then there would be a lot of gaps or wasted cells between circles. So why honey bees don’t make triangular or square cells. These shapes do not leave any wasted space. But scientific research suggests that hexagonal cells use less wax and provides more space as compared to triangles and squares. This means honey bees can store more honey, while using least amount of wax. Besides this, the overall structure is much more stable and strong.
Interesting Fact About Honey Bees
A worker bee can live between four to nine months during winter. But a worker bee born in busy summer will only last about six weeks before dying of exhaustion.
- Queen bee can live up to 5 years. And lay up to 2000 eggs per day.
- One healthy beehive can produce more than 50 kgs of honey in a single year.
- For one pound of honey, more than 10,000 worker bees have to together fly more than 3 times around the world, approximately 75,000 and visit up to 8 million flowers.
- Bees can communicate using their body language. Worker bees dance to tell other bees where to find food.