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How do bees construct their hives to make honey?

Team StoryWeavers|June 10, 2021, 12:45 IST|

How many of you have had bread or pancakes with honey as part of your breakfast? We are sure many of you agree that it is great to start the day with generous helpings of honey!

The yellow, jelly-like sweet substance that magically makes all your food taste better also has several health benefits as well. Honey is a part of several natural medicines as it contains essential vitamins and minerals.  

Having honey as part of your regular diet is important. But have you ever wondered where the honey comes from? You would have learnt in school that honey is produced by bees; but you must explore the entire process by which they construct the hive. It is one of nature’s most fascinating wonders!

The honey we consume is very different from that prepared by bees.  From the hives, honey in its raw form is extracted by beekeepers, and then processed and bottled for use.  

Beehives are found on trees, rocks and other places that are strategically chosen by bees themselves.  Bees are smart in choosing a location to create and build their nests. They usually settle down anywhere that offers protection from nature’s elements.

Now, let us dive into what exactly a beehive is, how bees construct them and why it is not very wise to go near one!

Shaped to perfection

It takes 60,000 bees to build a honeycomb

Colonies of bees live inside hives. One hive is made of several hexagonal honeycombs  placed parallel to each other. Now, you must be wondering what a honeycomb is. Bees construct honeycombs as a tightly-packed collection of perfect hexagons. It is made using a combination of wax (secreted by bees) and the nectar that these bees suck from flowers. 

It takes thousands of bees to make the honeycomb, where they store honey. They later stack several honeycombs together to make a hive. Experts say that it takes around 60,000 bees to build one!

Isn’t it fascinating to visualise swarms of bees building little hexagons and making a protective home for themselves? It is indeed apt to call them ‘Nature’s Architects’.

And you know what else? They are brilliant mathematicians too. They construct their hives in a perfectly shaped hexagonal pattern, because mathematically, a circle shape would not be able to hold the amount of honey that hexagons can.

After they’ve built the hive, the bees also devise a way to protect their homes from intruders. They use propolis (also called bee glue) – a substance collected from trees, to line the entrance of the hive and the borders between honeycombs

The propolis serves as an excellent sealant to hold the honeycombs together and a way to keep predators and intruders at bay. When small predators (like wasps or robber bees) enter the mouth of the hive, they are stopped by the propolis. In other words, the propolis is a defendant of the hive. 

In short, the beehive is like any other home – with walls (honeycomb) and a door (propolis). Besides, they help in storing basic utilities and also provide shelter to the babies.

Working class heroes

A worker bee working hard to make a honeycomb

Now that you know the geometry of the hive and the process of making it, you also need to understand which kind of bee constructs a hive. Is it a worker bee, drone or a queen bee? 

As the name aptly suggests, it is the female worker bee that constructs these hives. She also happens to be one of the most active creatures on the planet, always busy collecting pollen from flowers, making honey and building homes. 

Here is a more detailed look at the process: The worker bees visit flowers and collect nectar. Later, they extract wax from the nectar and chew it for as long as they can. And finally, when the wax is of the perfect texture, they build honeycombs using the wax.  

As a next step, they bind large quantities of wax into the honeycomb and construct the hive. Once that is done, colonies of worker bees crowd together inside the hive to maintain the temperature at 30-35 degrees Celsius, so that the temperature of the wax is controlled. 

Some fun facts

Besides living inside the hive, they also store what they eat, such as honey and pollen from the flowers, as well as the young bees of the queen in the egg, larvae, and pupae stages. 

Now that you know how a beehive is made, you must feel a lot more fascinated to learn about the busy bees, which are architects and mathematicians as well. Go read up more on bees and leave some fascinating trivia as comments.

About the Author

Aparna is a mom, singer and dreamer. At BYJU'S, she writes stories about learning for children. She believes in the power of music, especially ghazal, the magic of the universe and happy learners. When not writing or singing, you will find her intensely engaged in conversations about life and the power of words.

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