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What is honey and do bees eat it?
Bees make honey from honeydew (also called plant nectar) which are excretions of insects that have eaten nectar. Nectar it is a sugary substance broken down by bees into carbohydrates. These flowery grains are also packed with all sorts of goodness like protein, which is nutritionally essential for bees. The other nutrient that bees require is found in pollen. The bees’ salivary glands release an enzyme that mixes with the nectar. The bees share this nectar with other bees in the colony, creating a syrupy substance we know as honey. This is how they eat and also feed their young.
Every worker bee consumes the honey, however the Queen Bee’s diet consists of ‘royal jelly’ - and not the kind your Granny gets you for Christmas! ‘Royal jelly’ is a nutritional secretion produced by the worker bees. Bees, when in their infancy - also called larvae - will feed on royal jelly during their first few days of growth. There is one exception, which is for the larvae chosen to become the Queen Bee. It will feed off royal jelly throughout their entire development, allowing the Queen to develop, reproduce and become strong enough to sustain the beehive.
Why do bees eat honey?
Male bees are known as drones (you may have seen our Instagram post about this!) These drones are only produced seasonally and are born to repopulate the hive. They mate, propagate the species… and then die in the process. Unlike the colony worker bees, drones don’t perform hard labour and instead they live inside the beehive, eating honey stores and resting. Lucky for some!
The working honeybee spends the majority of its life foraging. They are burning energy by carrying heavy loads of nectar and pollen back to the beehive. These honeybees mainly eat honey to provide an energy source to refuel after expeditions out of the hive.
The worker bees make and store honey in large quantities for the cold winter months when flowers aren’t as readily available to feed on. Stored nectar in the form of honey is their alternative food source and ensures the survival of the hive.Bacteria can’t grow in the honeycomb because the sugar content is too high for it to multiply thus giving the bees a secured food supply without an expiration date.
It’s the beekeeper’s responsibility to ensure the entire colony have enough to eat while harvesting the honey. On a commercial level, farmers will remove a significant amount of honey and substitute it with sugar for the bees to eat. For this reason, opting for organic or locally produced honey is a much more sustainable and ethical decision. The bees’ health always come first! Check out our other blog to find out more about honey and what our bees eat