Why Do Bees Make Honey? Nature’s Secrets, Unveiled…


4 minute read

Essential Takeaways

Bees make honey so they have a food source when pollen and nectar are in short supply, like during the winter months.

Less than 4% of bee species make honey. Most bees survive on nectar and pollen, but there are three species found in the tropics that eat meat, too.

Honey can be harvested without threatening bees. Responsible keepers make sure they stick to strict guidelines about when they harvest and how to keep their bees healthy.

People have loved honey for millennia.

We know what it’s good for from food and drink to skincare and even healing wounds.

But why do bees make honey? Is it just food for them too, or is there more to the story?

Are we harming bees by taking their honey?

Is there a way to get honey without bees (and would we want that)?

Let’s take a closer look.

In this guide asking why do bees make honey:

Want to learn how bees make honey? Check out our dedicated guide.

Why and How Do Bees Make Honey?

“Among the 200,000 species of animals that serve as pollinators, only a tiny fraction feed exclusively on floral resources throughout their entire life cycles, due to the ecological and physiological challenges associated with consuming these foods.

Specialization for consumption of floral foods, particularly nectar, has reached a pinnacle in Apis mellifera, the western honey bee, achieved with a suite of extraordinary adaptations that involve both food processing and storage.”

Bees make honey so they have a food source when pollen and nectar are in short supply.

Since the flowers they rely on can be affected by all sorts of changeable factors like the seasons, harvest times, and disease (to name a few), they need a backup plan.

It’s not just keeping them full, either.

The phytochemicals contained in honey protect honeybees against pathogens, toxins, and the stress caused by cold weather. This helps them to stay healthy and live for longer¹.

And producing it is a pretty unique adaptation that we haven’t seen in other animals.

“Biologically active constituents of honey, beyond sugars, appear to contribute substantively to bee health in diverse contexts that, by virtue of the unique nature of perennial eusociality and associated food processing and storage, have no equivalent in conventional herbivores or even in other florivorous (flower-feeding) hymenopterans.”

Do bees eat their own honey?

Yes, bees intentionally make honey as a food source during the winter months. It also keeps them safe and protected from disease.

Do all bees make honey?

No, less than 4% of bee species actually make honey, and many of those don’t produce enough honey for it to be worth harvesting².

The bees that make our manuka honey are actually the European Apis mellifera species, brought over by the British in the 19th century.

Learn more about how bees make honey.


Can Honey Be Made Without Bees?

Plant-based and laboratory-made honey is starting to emerge (at the time of publishing).

This is a response to the exploitation of bees in some countries and to the rise in consumer awareness of food production welfare issues.

Honey is one of the most faked foods in the world. And like with any industry, there are plenty of untrustworthy and dishonest suppliers.

So creating honey like this could be a cost-effective way of removing these from grocery store shelves and offering a viable, affordable alternative.

But for companies like ours that take every step to ensure our bees are healthy and protected, and with our honey being of the highest quality, we say there’s nothing like the real deal.

What Do Bees Eat When There’s No Honey?

Outside of the winter months, bees are always foraging for food in different places.

Aside from honey, they eat pollen, nectar, bee bread (a combination of honey and pollen), and honeydew (a secretion from other insects).

Female worker honeybees also secrete royal jelly, a highly nutritious substance fed to larvae and queen bees.

So whilst honeybees don’t rely solely on honey, it is a significant part of their diet, and beekeepers should not harvest every last drop.

What about non-honey-producing bees?

Well, this might surprise you.

Ever heard of a vulture bee?

These three bee species hailing from the tropics have evolved to process flesh³. Their guts contain the same acid-loving bacteria as hyenas and vultures, hence the name.

But they’re pretty rare. Most bees survive on nectar, pollen, and other plant or insect foods.

Is It Harmful to Bees When We Take Honey?

No, it doesn’t hurt bees when we take their honey if this is conducted responsibly.

Reputable beekeepers like those we work with are careful and respectful when retrieving honey.

Here are some ways they make sure that bees are protected:

  • Honey is only harvested at certain times of the year so the bees have plenty of food available.

  • When honey is harvested, a blower is used to gently remove the bees from the hive. They’re simply able to crawl back into it afterwards.

  • The bees are bred to be calm and non-aggressive, so handling them doesn’t cause unnecessary stress.

So there you have it.

Harvesting honey responsibly isn’t cruel to bees. There are ways that we can do this carefully and respectfully so that both the bees and the crop are protected.

Buy Premium and Responsibly Sourced Manuka Honey from New Zealand Honey Co.

Manuka honey is a little different to other honey types.

It contains far more of the antibacterial compound methylglyoxal than other honey types, thanks to the pollen of the mānuka tree.

To protect the integrity of real manuka honey and of responsible suppliers here in New Zealand, the Unique Manuka Factor grading system was established.

By opting for UMF™ graded manuka honey, you can be sure that you’re supporting the best in the business and getting the real deal.

Shop our range of authentic raw manuka honey here.

Unsure which grade is right for you?

Take the quiz.

Your wellness journey starts with a spoonful a day.


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