Bee series: What are actually honey and pollen?

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Illustration of the “round dance” and honeydew

A similar dance, called the “round dance”, works almost like the “waggle dance” but is used by bees to indicate a closer source of food. The explorer bee will only describe a circle on the hive, without waggling, in front of other forager bees. Those interested will then draw circles around the hive, which size depends on the rounds the explorer has drawn, until they find the right ressource. Speaking of ressources, it can be honey, honeydew, or even “propolis”, a resinous mixture gathered from tree buds and sap flows to seal unwanted open spaces in the hive.

Honey actually comes from the nectar produced by plants. This nectar is a sweet juice which is relatively rich in water. Bees will bring this nectar inside the hive, enrich it with enzymes, then dry it by ventilating it, which will reduce its amount of water thus making it more durable. Honey can also come from other sources than flowers: honeydew are small drops of a sweet juice that aphids and small scale insects produce by sucking the sap of trees or plants which bees will later harvest. Honey is alive is because it contains a variety of enzymes that require special conditions to be active.

There is also another product that is even more alive: pollen. Pollen is the equivalent of the sperm of flowers. Bees will add honey to it to form small solid balls. What is interesting is that they later add a variety of micro-organisms to it, mainly bacterias and yeast, which will actually ferment the pollen, like sauerkraut. That will allow the pollen to be digested better and to be richer in nutrients. For bees, pollen is the equivalent of proteins. But it also is a whole microflora. When you drink apple cider vinegar and you see what is called “a mother”, this yogurt looking thing floating at the surface, it is actually a source of micro-organisms which is essential for our body to fonction well. Likewise, pollen is going to be the way for bees to enrich their microflora.

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