Honey: the golden elixir

SCIENCE FOR YOUTH

by Hiya Islam

 

science

Apis mellifera, the honey bee, is one type of bees still in existence and the only kind equipped by nature to make Pooh Bear’s favourite delicacy, honey. Apart from being hardworking honey-makers, they are major pollinators. As they bounce from one flower to the next, the pollen brushes against their hairy body and lands on to another.  In a hive that houses approximately 60,000 buzzing bees, there are three classes of bees: the queen, drones and workers. The queen bee is solely responsible for laying eggs. Drones are male bees and worker bees, the majority, are underdeveloped female bees. Worker bees are assigned to take care of brood and build a honey comb. Drones are there to fertilise the queen and funnily, die shortly after mating.

The process of honey making starts as soon as worker bees leave the hive in search of flowers. Once found, the bee dips in its proboscis or straw-like tongue to sip in the nectar. Nectar goes down to the ‘honey stomach’ or crop, a specialised stretchable organ that serves as a pouch for storage. This prevents the digestion of nectar and it undergoes enzymatic modifications aiding the formation of honey. It flies miles and miles, from flower to flower until the crop is no longer able to hold anymore nectar. It’s time to head back home. The hive bees are eagerly waiting for the arrival of the forager bees. The nectar ingested is now regurgitated into the mouths of hive bees where it is further processed by enzymes. This also reduces the water content of nectar to about 20per cent. By now, the honey is almost made. Now, the product is spit out into the cells of the comb. Finally, the bees speed up the dehydrating process by fanning the honey with their wings, about 200 times per minute! When satisfied with the product, it is time to seal it off with beeswax (produced by the 4 pairs of wax-secreting glands located underneath the abdomen). This is an indication to beekeepers that the honey is ready for harvesting. Honey goes out and cash comes in.

Why honey, though? Honey is the food of the bees. When times are rough (such as, during winter when it is too cold for bees to fly out and forage nectar), the colony relies on this storage of food for survival. Beekeepers make sure that they leave sufficient amounts for the bees before taking all the honey out. The colour, texture, taste and aroma of honey are determined by the sort of flower visited by the bees. Also, bees have a special ‘waggle dance’ to guide other fellow bees to sources of nectar. It is hard to imagine that so much work is put into getting the golden syrup we flood our pancakes with.

 

Hiya Islam is student of BRAC University.

 

 

 

Comments are closed.