What’s happening in the hive? Drying down honey

A few years ago, we saw a mass of bees collected around the hole that led outside from the indoor bee hive.

We thought the bees might be swarming — leaving the hive, which usually occurs when there are two queens raised and one leaves with half the hive — and were nervous that there was an issue with the hive. However, the bees didn’t go anywhere.

Usually, when the bees do something weird, we do a little a research and figure out that they really have a purpose for what they do. We found out that these clumps of bees were giving away what they were doing because they were all flapping their wings. They were venting the hive!

The process of making honey begins with foraging. The last job of a worker bee’s life is that of a forager. These are the bees that we see out and about, flitting from flower to flower, drinking nectar and picking up pollen in their pollen sacs.

When the bees drink the nectar, it doesn’t go into their regular stomach. Instead, it stops at what is a called a honey stomach or honey gut. As the honey stomach fills, it can weigh as much as the bee itself!

The bee then flies back to the hive, where it regurgitates the nectar into the mouth of a waiting worker bee. The nectar is transferred from bee to bee, mixing with an enzyme that lives in each bee’s honey gut, before it is finally regurgitated into a cell of honeycomb.

The next step is to get rid of the excess water in the nectar.

That’s where our flapping bee friends come in.

Bees beat their wings throughout the hive, and sometimes create a group outside of the hive to create a suction, and make an air current that helps to evaporate the excess moisture. The nectar thickens as it dries down, and when it is less than 20 percent water, it is considered honey.

At that point, bees will cap the full cell of honey with beeswax.

That cell is done, and they move on to another.

Have you read about how bees make the honeycomb that honey resides in? Check out our blog post on “What’s Happening in the Hive? Festooning Bees,” “Why aren’t there any Drones?” and “Varroa mites.”

Then watch this PBS video about how bees make honey or try out four recipes that feature honey.

2 Comments

  1. Jan Grant on August 5, 2018 at 11:45 am

    What a terrific way to educate more people!

  2. Jan Grant on August 5, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Fascinating!!!

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