Ever wonder how bees convert the simple, sweet nectar in plants into thick, delicious, golden honey? You’re not alone.
For those of us without biology degrees, the process might seem as magical and mysterious as alchemy. Fortunately, Dr. Joe Hanson of PBS Digital Studios is here to explain how bees achieve this extraordinary – not to mention delicious – transformation.
The process starts when worker bees leave the hive to forage for nectar in meadows and fields.
They use their long, straw-like tongues to draw nectar out of flowers and into one of their two stomachs. Inside the stomach, enzymes interact with the nectar to begin the process of converting it to honey. A fully-loaded bee’s stomach can weigh as much as the bee itself!
Honey-making isn’t a solitary effort.
Once the worker bee returns to the hive, it’s going to need some help to finish turning its harvested nectar into honey. The honeybee regurgitates the nectar into the mouth of another bee so that more enzymes can be added from that bee’s stomach. This process is then repeated as the colony passes the solution of nectar and gastric juices from one bee to another. Once enough bees have contributed stomach enzymes to the mixture, it’s deposited into a cell in the hive’s honeycomb.
Next, the bees flap their wings to move air across the cell, causing water to evaporate from the nectar. Once it’s thickened, the cell is capped with beeswax and the proto-honey is left to season and age. Because of its low water content and acidic PH level, honey has a remarkably long shelf life.
In addition to this clear, concise explanation of honey production, Dr. Hanson also discusses some other fascinating aspects of bee life such as the dances they use to communicate with one another. Check it out in the video below!