Why do bees make honey?

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Why do bees make honey?


Bees evolved from earlier flies and dragonflies about 200 million years ago. They developed the ability to take advantage of a new food source: flowering plants like apple trees and grass and daisies. Plants began to make nectar - essentially sugar-water - in order to attract bees and other insects, and ees developed the ability to eat the nectar that these flowering plants made. The bees and the flowers worked out a relationship that is good for both the bees and the flowers, where the bees help the flowers to reproduce by accidentally picking up some of the flower's pollen on their legs and carrying it with them to the next flower.

To attract even more bees, some plants developed bright red or yellow flowers that would be easy to find, and other flowers started to make addictive drugs that would get the bees hooked so they would come back more often. Poppies are bright red and make opium, and tobacco plants make nicotine.

The bees took the nectar back to their hive with them, and gave it to other bees, who made it into honey, which would last all winter. The honey-making bees fan the nectar with their wings to evaporate the water, and they add enzymes to break down the sucrose into glucose and fructose. With hardly any water, bacteria can't grow in honey, so it lasts until the next flowers grow in the spring.

Over time, some of these bees evolved into ants.

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Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014.
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