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How do bees make honey and why do they sting?

Even public radio hosts keep bees! We're talking about the ins and outs of beekeeping.
Jane Lindholm
/
VPR

Why do bees pollinate? How do they make honey? Why do bees have stingers? Why do (some) bees die when they sting you? What's the difference between a bee and a wasp? Does honey have healing properties? Farmer and beekeeper John Hayden answers all of your bee questions!

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript | Coloring Page

  • Bees collect nectar from flowers. Nectar is the sweet liquid that entices the bees to the flower. The bees climb onto or into the flower and suck up the nectar with their straw-like mouth and collect it in a little sac called a crop. They also collect pollen on their legs. As they move from flower to flower, they leave a little bit of that pollen on each new flower they visit. That's called pollination and it’s how flowers reproduce.
  • Bees take the pollen and nectar back to their hives and put it into the honeycomb (six-sided cells they have built out with wax). Pollen is like protein, one of the building blocks of animal bodies, and bees use that to feed their young mostly.
  • To turn nectar into honey, bees spit it up into other bees’ mouths and eventually they spit the liquid into the honeycomb cells. Then they fan it with their wings to evaporate some of the moisture. Once it has reached the right consistency, they seal it off with wax to store it for later. So honey is just concentrated nectar.
  • Bees keep the honey in storage for the winter months when there are no flowers. But they make more than they need, so beekeepers take the extra honey out of the hive and leave the bees enough to survive through the winter.
  • Bees sting to protect their hive and defend their honey from potential predators. But honeybees don’t sting unless they have to, because after they sting, their stinger gets pulled out of their body and they die! Honeybees die when they sting because their stinger has a barb on it, like a fish hook. The stinger gets hooked into your skin and then when the bee tries to fly away the hook stays in and pulls out the bee's abdomen as it flies away.
  • Honeybees are social insects who depend on their colony to survive. So they are willing to sacrifice themselves to make sure the whole colony can survive.
  • Honeybees are far from the only pollinator. Bees are very important to our ecosystem and there are more than 4000 species in the US alone. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats also play important pollinator roles.

Resources

How do big plants grow from small seeds?

How are babies made? 

Honeybee music video

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.