Why Do Bees Make Honey?

The more I learn about bees, the more fascinating they become to me. They are incredibly hard-workers and highly organized creatures. Everything they do has a specific purpose. One day, a seemingly obvious question popped in my head, why do bees make honey? The answer may sound obvious, but I wanted to know more about it. 

Bees make honey because, during winter, the weather is too cold to forage for pollen. Therefore, they need a food source that preserves well enough to store for some time and provides a lot of energy. This ensures they can feed and keep themselves warm during winter. 

Bees storing honey inside comb

Bees Make Honey Because It Gives Them Energy For:

Foraging And Flying

Bees collect pollen to feed themselves and ensure they have enough energy to complete their tasks. When the weather is warm, they will use this energy to forage, collect and transport nectar and pollen.

If you think about it, just flying takes a significant amount of energy. Honeybees beat their wings around 230 times per second. That is over 13,000 times per minute! Imagine how much energy they spend just flying. That energy requirement may be even higher when they have to carry loads of pollen and nectar in their bodies. 

Clustering And Staying Warm During Winter

The other ways in which bees use energy are closely related to how they stay warm during winter. 

As you might know by now, bees don’t forage during the cold months because the temperature is too low for them to do so.

Bees, like all living organisms, have the objective to sustain the survival of their species. During winter, this becomes critical as the temperature lowers and the food available from flowering plants, is scarce. 

Contrary to popular belief, bees do not hibernate during winter. They hide in their hive until spring comes, but they don’t remain dormant. In fact, they are very active during this period because they need to keep themselves warm, and they do this by moving – a lot. 

During the colder months of the year, bees protect their queen as she is a vital piece in the reproduction process and growth of the colony. They also have to make sure there are enough workers to reach spring so they can restart their foraging process again. 

To keep the queen and the hive warm, they cluster around her while moving their flight muscles to create heat. All this movement requires high amounts of energy, so they use the honey they have produced and stored in the previous months to reenergize. 

This clustering process is a fantastic way in which bees regulate the temperature in the hive. The colder the weather is, the tighter the cluster will be. On days when the temperature is a bit warmer, they will separate themselves to allow airflow lowering the temperature to a more comfortable one. 

Bees will also use energy defending and protecting their hive from threats like external attackers, parasites and disease.

Why Do Bees Need Honey During Winter?

As you know by now, bees collect pollen and nectar mostly from flowering plants during spring and summer. However, when the weather gets too cold, bees cannot forage without freezing to death. Even if they could, there are not enough flowers in bloom to collect adequate amounts of pollen and nectar. 

While they could collect tons of pollen and nectar and store it, the water content in both of these is too high to preserve for long periods, so they would spoil before winter. 

This is where honey comes in. The nectar bees have stored in their body is passed mouth-to-mouth from one bee to another, until the moisture content is significantly reduced. The result of this process is honey, which then gets stored in the honeycomb cells and capped with wax. 

Honey is also mixed with pollen to make ‘bee bread’ which is known for its high protein content. It is particularly useful to feed larvae as their nutritional requirements cannot be completely satisfied with honey. 

Is It OK To Take Honey Then?

Well, it depends on how much and when.  

Harvesting honey from a new colony is usually not recommended as their energy requirements are higher. During this time, they are settling in and forming their honeycomb, which requires a lot of work. You want to make sure your young colony is strong enough so they can maintain their activities and defend themselves from threats like pests.

Harvesting honey during the warmer months of the year will allow them to have enough time and pollen sources to replenish their honey stores before winter comes. Also, you want to make sure you leave good amounts of honey for them to guarantee they will have enough. 

In my post about ethical beekeeping, I explain why harvesting honey during autumn can be considered unethical and how it can endanger the beehive. 

Something else to have in mind is your personal beliefs. For many people, taking honey from bees is not OK. For example, people who consider themselves as vegan often decide to exclude honey from their diets as it would be considered a product that comes from the exploitation of bees, among other reasons. 

Other people believe that if you harvest during the warm months of the year and leave enough stores for the colony, the honey taken is just excess that is not vital for their survival so, in the end, it doesn’t cause any harm.

Summing Up… Why Do Bees Make Honey?

Bees make honey as a reliable food source that will allow them to feed themselves and replenish their energy during the cold months of winter when there are not enough flowers in bloom, and the weather is too cold to go out of their hive. 

The low moisture content of honey makes it perfect to be stored for a long time without spoiling and can also be used to make other nutritious food like bee bread. 

Whether you think taking honey from bees is OK or not, is up to you. However, it is always a good practice to keep in mind how the time of the year and quantities of honey harvested could potentially endanger the hive survival.

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