Curiosities: How do bees make honey?

By Eddy Montilla.

Bees

Honeybees are the only insects that produce food that can be eaten by humans and this food is honey. It is not, however, an easy task to do, and above all, it requires a lot of effort and good teamwork if you take into consideration that an average worker bee produces only 1/12th teaspoon of honey over her lifetime (six weeks in summer). And how do bees make honey so sweet?

     Everything starts when worker bees leave their hive to collect nectar, a sweet liquid that is produced by flowers. Nectar contains about 80% water while honey contains between 14% and 18% water only. Since honey provides a much greater energy source than pure nectar, bees convert the nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation.

     Regurgitation is the expulsion of something (usually undigested food) from the pharynx or esophagus for a particular reason. Many birds, for example, regurgitate to feed their young birds. Worker bees store the nectar in their “honey stomach”, which is different from their food stomach. They can store about 70 milligrams in one trip in this special stomach that weighs almost the same as the bee does. When honeybees go back to the hive, the first process, regurgitation, begins. They regurgitate and “pass” the nectar to other bees that will consume it and regurgitate it again. The process is a group activity that involves repeated consumption and regurgitation steps until the nectar turns into a viscous liquid after the last regurgitation. Since it is still high in water, bees set the second process in motion: Evaporation. The hive bees start to beat their wings to fan the nectar so that the remaining water content can be evaporated. As the water evaporates, the sugars thicken into honey, bees can have food for cold winter months and you can have honey for your slice of toast in your breakfast.

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