A hard year for honeybees
As the British Beekeepers Association explains, bees have had to overcome many challenges to produce this winter’s honey supply
“The biggest threat facing honeybees this year is the Asian hornet. The largest part of its diet comes from eating honeybees”
“Honeybees have had a lot to cope with this year. The Beast from the East blew in at just the wrong time in spring, confining worker bees to the hive when they needed to be out foraging for food to feed the growing brood. Summer came in a blast and blossom came and went very quickly, followed by the heat wave. In prolonged dry weather, flowers dry up and produce less of the nectar honeybees need to make honey. Despite this, overall the honey crop looks like it will be a good one.
By far the biggest threat facing honeybees – and all pollinators – this year is the Asian hornet. Large parts of France are said to have become silent countryside because of this invasive carnivorous species. It preys on insects of all kinds and even small mammals, but the largest part of its diet comes from eating honeybees.
100 nests have been found on the Isle of Jersey and the fear is that it could spread across the
UK. There have been three confirmed sightings in the UK in September. Beekeepers are on high alert across the country, and a group is assisting beekeepers on Jersey to hunt and eradicate the Asian hornet there.”
Finding a flower
Using bright colours and ultraviolet patterns, flowering plants advertise their nectar to passing pollinators. A bee searching for food can even sense
the electric fields of flowers.
The bee leaves one flower and travels to the next to gather more nectar. It can visit 100 flowers in one foraging trip, unknowingly transferring pollen
between plants as it goes.
To turn the watery mixture into thick honey, bees furiously fan their wings
over the open cell to encourage evaporation. When they’re finished the
water content is about 18 per cent.
Extracting the nectar
The honeybee lands on the centre of a flower to extract the sweet nectar.
A tube-like tongue – known as a proboscis – acts like a straw to suck
the liquid out.
Passing it on
Back at the colony, the bee regurgitates the nectar and passes it to a younger worker. Enzymes in its mouth lower the pH and break sucrose into glucose and fructose.
Sealing the stores
With the honey concentrated and bacteria-resistant, the worker bees gather wax secreted from glands on their abdomens and use it to create an
airtight cap over the cell.
Keeping things separate
When a bee collects nectar, it doesn’t
go to the main stomach; it gets diverted to a separate pouch called the crop, or honey stomach ready for
Breaking it down
The nectar is passed from bee to bee until it’s acidic enough to prevent microbes from growing and the sugar is in its simplest form. The last bee in
the chain puts the liquid into a cell.
When food becomes scarce in winter,
a colony can survive on its sugary stores. Honey provides them with the energy they need to stay warm and
keep the hive healthy.