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How do bees make honey? It’s not just bee barf

Posted on June 21, 2013
Credit: North Carolina State University

Credit: North Carolina State University

Last weekend, my daughter asked me how bees made honey, and I realized that I didn’t know the answer. How do bees make honey? I did some homework, and can now explain it to her – and to you.

 

Different honey bees have different jobs. Some of these bees are “forager” bees, which collect nectar from flowering plants. The foragers drink the nectar, and store it in their crop, which is also called the honey stomach. The crop is used solely for storage, and the bee does not digest the nectar at all.

The forager bee then takes the nectar back to the hive, regurgitating the nectar directly into the crop of a “processor” bee at or near the entrance to the hive.

While the forager heads back to the flowers for more nectar, the processor bee takes the nectar to the honeycomb, which tends to be near the top of the hive, and regurgitates it into a hexagonal wax cell. But now the nectar needs to ripen.

The processor bees add an enzyme called invertase every time they regurgitate their nectar (and it takes many loads of nectar to fill a cell). The nectar consists largely of sucrose (table sugar) and water. The invertase breaks the sucrose down into two simpler sugars: glucose (blood sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar).

By definition, honey contains less than 18.6 percent water, but water usually makes up approximately 70 percent of nectar. During the ripening process, the bees “dry out” the nectar. One of the ways they do this is by fanning their wings, which creates airflow around the honeycomb and helps water evaporate from the nectar.

Read more at: Phys.org

 

   
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