Sunday, January 30, 2011


We know that bees collect flower pollen. We know that flowers deliberately attract bees by offering nectar.

The bees put their tongues into the flowers and suck up the nectar.

And we know that the bees fly back to the hive with that precious nectar.

But what happens after that? They make honey!

Let's go inside the hive and find out how the bees do it.

When a bee first arrives back at the hive, she's flying heavy. Her stomach is full of nectar. She'll often be greeted by a house worker bee at the entrance.

She'll unload her nectar to the house bee. They touch tongues and the field bee will release the droplets of nectar to a house bee. Once her stomach is empty the field bee will go back out again to collect another load.

The house bee will climb the frames of comb to the honey area. Once there she'll regurgitate droplets of the nectar to the tip of her tongue. She'll hold them there.

Why does she do that?

She's letting the warm air inside the hive dry up the liquid in the nectar. She'll hold droplets a few times and then she'll dunk down inside the cell and regurgitate all the nectar.

After that she'll go back down the hive to wait for another field bee to come in with another load of nectar.

Next will come more house bees. These will be fanning bees. Their job is to beat their wings to create wind that will blow on the nectar and dry it up. As the liquid evaporates the bee magic begins.

The nectar becomes thicker and thicker. It becomes sweeter and sweeter. The bee might even taste it just to be sure. Mmmmm. It's good. She knows exactly when the honey is thick enough--ripe enough--to be done.

Then more house bees will come. They will be capping bees that can make wax. They'll put lids on the honeycombs to store the honey just like how we store food in jars.

[Picture at left - The yellow stuff in the cells is pollen. The shiny liquid is honey].

When the flowers have faded and winter comes bringing cold winds and snow, the bees will snuggle together in their hive to keep warm.
And while they warm themselves all through the cold months of winter they'll have lots of food--honey.
Honey made from a flower's nectar.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Flower's Secret: Candy for Bees

Doesn't everybody love sweets? Bees certainly do.

I suppose you could call flowers pros when it comes to making sweets. They make a nectar that bees love just like we love candy.

Last time we looked at flower pollen and how the bees use it as a food for the hive. We examined the special relationship that flowers have with bees. They need help spreading their pollen and the bees are happy to do that for them.

But why do many flowers also make nectar? It's their secret trick: Advertising.

What? Yes, it helps for flowers to advertise to bees.
There are many, many flowers in bloom in summer and the flowers compete to get the bees to come to them and not to the other flowers. They try to make their nectar smell and taste the best. And it works.

The bees have an amazing sense of smell (they sniff with their antennae) and that's how they find which flowers are offering the sweetest smelling nectar.

The bees come and suck up the nectar with their long tongues. And while they're at it the flower's pollen collects on their fur. That's how flower's guarantee their pollen seed gets spread around.

Almost all plants that rely on insect pollination produce both pollen and nectar.

Nectar looks like water except it's sweet. It tastes and smells like flowers which is what gives honey its special flavour and colour.

The bees are happy to have their nectar but they still have to make it into honey. Next time we'll look at how bees turn nectar into honey.