This Is Why Bees Make Honey

In case you weren't paying attention that day in school.

This Is Why Bees Make Honey
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Some facts in life are just a given: Babies cry, dogs bark, bees make honey. But wait, why do bees do that? While we’re happy to reap the benefits of their hard work—namely in the form of delicious honey-flavored candies and sugary spreads—the truth is that few of us actually know why bees make honey.

Turns out, bees make honey because they need to eat it! During the summer, the insects collect nectar, which they then use to create honey. And they’re producing a ton of the stuff—essentially because whatever they produce (or, more importantly, don’t produce), is what they’ve got to sustain themselves on during the long, cold, flowerless winter.

Here’s how the process goes down: First, a hive’s worker bees visit nearby flowers to collect nectar. The bees store this nectar in their second stomachs and then head back to their hive. Once there, they begin the process of converting nectar into honey. To do that, a bee will regurgitate the nectar they collected into another bee’s mouth. That bee will chew on the nectar for about a half hour and then pass it onto another bee. The bees will repeat this process until the nectar becomes honey. Finally, they store their final product in the hive’s honeycomb cells.

“Honeycomb cells are like tiny jars made of wax,” writes journalist and beekeeper Bill Turnbull for the The Guardian. “The honey is still a bit wet, so the bees fan it with their wings to make it dry out and become more sticky. When it’s ready, they seal the cell with a wax lid to keep it clean.” That way, it can be stored indefinitely and eaten should other sources of food (bees can eat honey, pollen, honeydew, and plant spores) become scarce—which in the winter is practically guaranteed.

Producing enough honey in the summer is crucial, and depending on the size and location of a hive, it could take anywhere between 40 and 60 pounds of honey to sustain a hive through winter. If the bees fail to harvest enough, they might have to resort to cannibalization. That means feasting on their own larvae and eggs. Not the most appetizing meal!

So there you have it. While you might have thought bees just disappear during the winter months, they’re actually gorging themselves on the honey they produced during the summer. And if you’re wondering if bees are one of the animals that could kill you, check out the 30 Most Deadly Animals on Earth.

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