What Bees produce & store in a hive
Around the time a worker bee turns 10 days old, she develops a unique wax-producing gland inside her abdomen.
These glands of the worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey into wax, which oozes through the bee’s small pores to produce tiny flakes of wax on their abdomens. Workers chew these pieces of wax until they become soft and mouldable, and then add the chewed wax to the honeycomb construction.
How Nectar becomes Honey
Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by insect pollinated plants in glands called nectaries.
Older worker bees are the foragers, bringing nectar back to the colony. The mature worker bees drink the nectar from flowers, using a straw-like proboscis (elongated appendage from the head – tubular mouthpart used for feeding and sucking).
The nectar is stored in a special stomach called the honey stomach.
The worker continues to drink until her stomach is full. A process called inversion takes place within the worker’s stomach. Special enzymes break down the complex sugars of the nectar transforming them into simple sugars, which are less prone to crystalization.
With its belly full, the older worker returns to the hive. At the hive, the older worker regurgitates the transformed nectar. At this point, a younger hive bee ingests the liquid into her stomach, which then breaks it down even further. Once that process is complete, the younger worker regurgitates the nectar into a cell of the honeycomb.
The hive bees then beat their wings furiously, fanning the nectar to evaporate the remaining water content. As a result, the sugars thicken into honey. Finally, the hive bees cap the beeswax cell, sealing off the honeycomb for later consumption.
What is honey exactly?
A complex mix of:
- (80%) natural sugars
- (18%) water
- (2%) minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein
- Of honey’s 80% natural sugar content, around 70% is made up of fructose and glucose. The balance of these two sugars determines whether a honey is clear or set. Both types are equally pure and additive free.
Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps (approximately 6 millimetre (0.24 in) or less), while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax. Its colour varies depending on its botanical source, the most common being dark brown. Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature, 20 °C (68 °F). At lower temperatures, it becomes hard and very brittle.
Propolis is now believed to:
- reinforce the structural stability of the hive;
- reduce vibration;
- make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances;
- prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit fungal and bacterial growth;
- when a bee hatches from its nursery cell that cell is cleaned with propolis, ready for the queen to lay a new egg in sterile conditions;
- prevent putrefaction within the hive. Bees usually carry waste out of and away from the hive. However, if a small lizard or mouse, for example, finds its way into the hive and dies there, bees may be unable to carry it out through the hive entrance. In that case, they would attempt instead to seal the carcass in propolis, essentially mummifying it and making it odourless and harmless.
The composition of propolis varies from hive to hive, from district to district, and from season to season. Normally, it is dark brown in colour, but it can be found in green, red, black, and white hues, depending on the sources of resin found in the particular hive area. Honey bees are opportunists, gathering what they need from available sources, and detailed analyses show that the chemical composition of propolis varies considerably from region to region, along with the vegetation. In northern temperate climates, for example, bees collect resins from trees, such as poplars and conifers (the biological role of resin in trees is to seal wounds and defend against bacteria, fungi and insects). “Typical” northern temperate propolis has approximately 50 constituents, primarily resins and vegetable balsams (50%), waxes (30%), essential oils (10%), and pollen (5%). Propolis also contains persistent lipophilic acaricides, a natural pesticide that deters mite infestations.
Propolis has been used in traditional medicines for thousands of years. It can be effective for treating cold sores, genital herpes, skin injuries, boosting the immune system, fighting infections and treating post-surgery mouth pain.
Royal jelly is a honey bee secretion that is used in the nutrition of larvae, as well as adult queens. It is secreted from the glands in the hypopharynx of worker bees, and fed to all larvae in the colony, regardless of sex or caste. After three days, the drone and worker larvae are no longer fed with royal jelly, but queen larvae continue to be fed this special substance throughout their development.
When worker bees decide to make a new queen, because the old one is either weakening or dead, they choose several small larvae and feed them with copious amounts of royal jelly in specially constructed queen cells. This type of feeding triggers the development of queen morphology, including the fully developed ovaries needed to lay eggs.
The overall composition of royal jelly is 67% water, 12.5% crude protein, including small amounts of many different amino acids, and 11% simple sugars (monosaccharides), also including a relatively high amount (5%) of fatty acids. The main acid is the 10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid or 10-HDA (about 2 – 3%).It also contains many trace minerals, some enzymes, antibacterial and antibiotic components,pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and trace amounts of vitamin C, but none of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. The queen/worker developmental divide is controlled only by differential feeding with royal jelly; this appears to be due specifically to the protein royalactin.