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What Happens When Bees Drink Fermented Nectar?

Honeybees are beloved for the sweet product they make, but like many overtaxed workers, they occasionally overindulge. Of course, their drink of choice is fermented nectar, but the results are the same as when a person drinks too much alcohol. "Drunk" bees can fly erratically, crash into things, and have a hard time making their way back to their hive. And while bees don't have police to lock up the offenders, they have something more intimidating. Hives protect themselves, and if an intoxicated bee comes flying in, other bees will attack it to prevent its return, sometimes going so far as chewing off its legs. Bees are in particularly acute danger of getting inebriated because they are the only creature known to be capable of ingesting pure ethanol, which is produced when heat ferments the nectar they go out in search of. The problem is that if the bees were to return and use their fermented find in the hive, it could cause widespread damage by creating alcoholic honey.

It's hard to be a honeybee:

  • To make one pound (.45 kg) of honey, bees must collect nectar from approximately two million flowers.

  • Honeybees flap their wings 200 times per second and fly at approximately 15 mph (25 km/h).

  • While the average worker bee lives only about six weeks, the queen can live for several years, producing up to 2,500 eggs a day in the summer.

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