Do Bumble Bees Make Honey and Other Bee Questions

Bees are some of the most interesting insects in the United States of America. Not only do they help our flowers grow and multiple, but they are responsible for creating a natural sweetener that rivals the delicious taste and quality of Vermont maple syrup. In order to answer the question of do bumble bees make honey, you will need to understand what honey really is.   

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Before we answer the question, do bumble bees make honey, let’s talk a little bit about bees. Boy, are there a lot of different types of bees. These insects belong to the Apidae family, which contains about 4,000 genera and 25,000 different species. Of honey bees specifically, there are seven different species. The most common type of honey bee and the one both you and I are familiar with is calledapis mellifera. 

Honey bees are the only species of bee that makes true honey. While bumble bees, carpenter bees and other types of bees may seem to be creating something that resembles honey, this is actually just nectar they are storing as a food reserve; it is not honey. And because it is not honey, humans will not eat it. This won’t stop a hungry animal from enjoying the sweet treat.

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There are three classifications of bees in any honey bee colony: the queen bee, worker bees, and drones.

The queen bee is the mother of the whole hive. As the name implies, she is the most important member of the colony. All other bees attend to her daily needs. She mates once during her life and can store the sperm from the 10 to 15 males that mate with her to produce a lifetime supply of fertilized eggs. Her sole duty and primary role in the colony is to lay eggs. Throughout a queen’s life, she will lay about 1,500 eggs.

A queen bee is larger than the other bees. Interestingly enough, several queens are often born at the same time. They are hatched as queens because they are fed royal jelly, a protein-rich secretion from the glands on the heads of young bees. Since there can only be one queen per hive, the newly hatched queens will fight until only one remains.

Queen bees live for about three to four years.

Worker bees are female bees hatched from fertilized eggs. In order to pose no competition, worker bees are smaller than the queen bee. The lifespan of a worker bee is broken up into two parts. During the first half of their life, worker bees are called hive bees. They make honeycomb and honey, tend to the queen and tend to the young bees; they also help ventilate and defend the hive.

During the second half of their lives, the worker bees graduate to field bees. They leave the hive and go out and collect nectar and pollen from flowers.

Worker bees live for about six to seven weeks.

The male bees hatched from unfertilized eggs are known as drones. They are larger than the worker bees but smaller than the queen bee. There are only a few hundred drones per hive. A drone’s only duty is to hopefully get the privilege of fertilizing the queen bee.

When food is scarce, the worker bees will evict the drones from the hive. Drones only live for one to four months. If a drone is fortunate enough to mate with the queen, it will die immediately afterward.

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Probably one of the most interesting facts about bees is how they communicate with one another through dance. When a worker bee is flying around as a field bee, it will return to the hive to let others know about a good source of nectar and pollen. In order to let others know, the bee will dance.

If the flowers are within 30 yards, the bee will fly in a circle in one direction then the other; this is known as a round dance.

If the flowers are further than 30 yards away, the bee will perform a waggle dance. The direction in which the bee waggles is the direction of the flowers in relation to the sun and the hive. If the sun is overhead and the flowers are directly in front or in back of the hive, the bee will waggle straight up or straight down. If the flowers are not directly in front of behind the hive, the bee will waggle to match the number of degrees away the flowers are in relation to the sun.

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Before we can discuss how honey is made and answer the question “do bumble bees make honey,” we must first learn exactly what honey is.

Honey is a sweet, edible substance made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Do bumble bees makes honey? The answer is no – only honeybees make honey.

The process of honey making starts when the worker bee is out and sips nectar from a flower. Bees use a small, straw-like tube within their mouth called a proboscis to collect the nectar. The nectar is stored in a sectioned off portion of their stomach known as their honey stomach. Sounds like the dessert stomach many of us claim to have after we eat a big meal but still want a slice of pie. When the honeystomach is full, the bee returns to the hive, and the nectar is deposited into a honeycomb cell.

The honeycomb itself is made by the worker bees. The bees secrete tiny flakes of wax through the pores on their abdomen. They chew these pieces of wax until they are soft and moldable. They then add the wax to the honeycomb.

After the nectar is placed in the honeycomb, it is allowed to partially evaporate. It is also mixed with a bee enzyme. When it becomes concentrated enough, the bees cap the honeycomb cell with wax to store the honey.

The honey is stores to be used as a food source for the bees during the winter. This is because flowers are harder to find during the cold months and bad weather can prevent the bees from going out in search of them.

Hives can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey each year. The bees in the hive only require about 25 pounds of the honey they produce to survive the winter, so that leaves plenty for humans to harvest. Typically, the honey is harvested from the hive during the winter, as it needs to spend enough time capped in the honeycomb.

During a worker bee’s lifetime, she collects enough nectar to create 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.

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Most of us have asked ourselves “do bumble bees make honey?” While it may seem that way, as bumble bees have a hive with nectar inside, it is not actually honey. This is because the nectar is not stored for long enough for it to become honey.

Bumble bees do exactly what honey bees do: they find flowers and sip the nectar. That nectar is brought back to the hive where it is stored for later use. Unlike honey bees, the queen bee actually does much of the harvesting and storing herself.

The queen bee will emerge from hibernation and go out to find a suitable spot for a hive. She will then work to establish a colony. Part of establishing a colony involves creating a nectar pot made from the wax she secreted from her abdomen. She will then go out and gather nectar from flowers and return to the hive to deposit the nectar into the pot. The queen will feed on this nectar as she incubates her eggs.

The queen bumble bee will share her nectar with her children. Unlike the honey bee, the bumble bees do not store their nectar for long enough for it to turn into honey. They also store nectar in much smaller quantities.

The major reason why bumble bees do not need to create honey is because their life cycle is different from the honey bee. While a honey bee colony will survive through the winter, and therefore need to make sure they have the sustenance to do so, bumble bees do not make it that far.  

Only the queen bumble bee will hibernate and survive the winter. Old queens, worker bees and drones will die. The queen bee is able to survive by building up her fat reserves while she prepares for hibernation.

It is important to note that in warmer climates, bumble bees are able to survive through the winter. If there are no winter months, flowers will not become scarce, and bumble bees still will not have a reason to create large quantities of stored nectar.  

Do bumble bees make honey? Nope. Despite the common belief that all bees make honey, bumble bees do not.

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