Why do bees need honey more than we do?

How do bees make honey?

Nectar is a sweet liquid contained in flowers, collected by a bee with a long proboscis. The insect stores nectar in its extra stomach, called the honey goiter. Nectar is very important to bees, so if one bee finds a rich source of nectar, it can communicate this to the rest of the bees through a series of dances. Pollen is just as important: the yellow granules found in flowers are rich in proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals and are a food source for bees. The pollen is stored in empty combs and can be used to make “bee bread,” a fermented food that insects make by moistening the pollen. 

But most of the food is collected through foraging. While bees buzz around the flower collecting pollen and nectar, special proteins (enzymes) in their honey stomach transform the chemical composition of the nectar, making it suitable for long-term storage.

Once a bee returns to its hive, it passes the nectar to another bee through burping, which is why some call honey “bee vomit.” The process is repeated until the nectar, turned into a thicker liquid rich in gastric enzymes, enters the honeycomb.

The bees still have to work to turn the nectar into honey. The industrious insects use their wings to “inflate” the nectar, speeding up the evaporation process. Once most of the water is gone from the nectar, the bees finally get the honey. The bees seal the honeycombs with secretions from their abdomens, which harden into beeswax, and the honey can be stored for a long time. In total, the bees reduce the water content of the nectar from 90% to 20%. 

According to Scientific American, one colony can produce about 110 kg of nectar – a significant figure, given that most flowers produce only a tiny drop of nectar. An ordinary jar of honey requires a million bee manipulations. One colony can produce 50 to 100 jars of honey per year.

Do bees need honey?

Bees put in a lot of work to make honey. According to BeeSpotter, the average colony consists of 30 bees. It is believed that bees use 000 to 135 liters of honey annually.

Pollen is the bee’s main food source, but honey is also important. Worker bees use it as a source of carbohydrates to support energy levels. Honey is also consumed by adult drones for mating flights and is essential for larval growth. 

Honey is especially important in winter, when the worker bees and the queen come together and process the honey to generate heat. After the first frost, the flowers practically disappear, so honey becomes a vital source of food. Honey helps protect the colony from the cold. The colony will die if there is not enough honey.

people and honey

Honey has been part of the human diet for thousands of years.

Alyssa Crittenden, an ecologist and nutritional anthropologist at the University of Nevada, wrote about the history of human consumption of honey in Food and Foodways magazine. Rock paintings depicting honeycombs, swarms of bees and the gathering of honey date back 40 years and have been found in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Crittenden points to a range of other evidence that early humans ate honey. Primates such as baboons, macaques, and gorillas are known to eat honey. She believes that “it is very likely that early hominids were at least as capable of harvesting honey.”

Science Magazine backs up this argument with additional evidence: Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting bees date back to 2400 BC. e. Beeswax has been found in 9000 year old clay pots in Turkey. Honey has been found in the Egyptian tombs of the pharaohs.

Is honey vegan?

According to The Vegan Society, “veganism is a way of life in which a person strives to exclude, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals, including for food, clothing, or any other purpose.”

Based on this definition, honey is not an ethical product. Some argue that commercially produced honey is unethical, but eating honey from private apiaries is fine. But The Vegan Society believes that no honey is vegan: “Bees make honey for bees, and people neglect their health and life. Collecting honey goes against the notion of veganism, which seeks to eliminate not only cruelty, but also exploitation.”

Honey is not only essential to the survival of the colony, but is also a time consuming task. The Vegan Society notes that each bee produces about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. The very removal of honey from bees can also harm the hive. Usually, when beekeepers collect honey, they replace it with a sugar substitute, which lacks the trace elements necessary for bees. 

Like livestock, bees are also bred for efficiency. The gene pool resulting from such selection makes the colony more susceptible to disease and, as a result, large-scale extinction. Diseases caused by overbreeding can spread to native pollinators such as bumblebees.

In addition, colonies are regularly culled after harvest to reduce costs. Queen bees, which usually leave the hive to start new colonies, have their wings clipped. 

Bees face other problems as well, such as colony breakdown, pesticide-related mass mysterious extinction of bees, transportation stress, and others.  

If you are vegan, honey can be substituted. In addition to liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup, dandelion honey, and date syrup, there are also vegan honeys. 

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