Bees need two kinds of food. One we’ve already read about — pollen. The other is honey made from the nectar they gather from their visits to flowers. Nectar is the sugary juice that flowers offer to bees in return for the successful transportation of the pollen the flowers need to fulfill their reproductive process.
How do honeybees make honey?
As the worker honeybee sucks the nectar from the flower, she stores it in her nectar sac (a second stomach) ready to be transferred to the honey-making worker bees in the hive. If hungry, she opens a valve in the nectar sac and a portion of the nectar passes through to her stomach to be converted to energy.
When her nectar sac is full, the worker bee returns to the hive where she regurgitates the nectar to give to the indoor worker bees. They mix it with bee enzyme and pass it mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee until the moisture content is reduced. Once the nectar is placed in a wax cell, it may be fanned by the bees to thicken it even more or sometimes it is left to evaporate more on its own. (The temperature inside the hive is typically 32.5°C .) The honey will contain traces of pollen too. Reference my earlier post on the Pollen Sac. This is the same honey collected by bee keepers to be processed for human consumption.
Once the honey is placed in the wax storage cells, they are also capped with beeswax to await the arrival of newborn baby bees. The wax is exuded from glands which sit between several of the honeybees abdominal segments (she has four). Later, pollen is mixed with nectar to make “bee bread” to feed to the larvae.
Does the bumblebee make honey?
Honeybees make honey from nectar to store as food for overwintering and for their offspring. Bumblebees use nectar for their young as well, but in a much simpler form. Only the queen bumblebees have a winter life cycle.
During the summer while the worker bumblebees are busy gathering nectar and pollen for the next brood of babies, the queen bumblebee feeds and builds up her fat reserves. She, like the honeybee queen, must have nectar to maintain her energy and pollen to provide protein to help with her reproduction functions. Impregnated by some unlucky male honeybees during the previous year’s late summer, she will hibernate over winter. When she awakens in the spring, she will feed from the early blooming flowers and then establish a new nest to begin developing her colony. She will create a nectar pot from which she will feed while she incubates her new brood of female babies.
Like the queen honeybee, the queen bumblebee will rear several broods of baby bees. The bumblebee babies will feed from nectar pots and bee bread created by the growing numbers of worker bees. The nectar when mixed with the worker bee enzyme becomes a type of honey, but it is definitely not the same as the honey created by the honeybee and the one we eat. Toward the end of the summer, the new broods will contain queen and male baby bees and new bumblebee life cycles begin again.
Note: Except for the honeybees and bumblebees, most bees gather only pollen or nectar. However, all bees emerging from their winter quarters, whether honeybees or bumblebees or others, need spring blooming flowers to gather nectar and pollen to maintain their busy life cycles.
For more information on honeybees to PerfectBee.
For more information on bumblebees go to Penn State