We love honey, and we know that you do too! But there seems to be quite a bit of confusion surrounding how bees produce honey and what it is made of.
So, let’s dispel some common honey myths right away, shall we?
Is honey bee poop, spit, or vomit?
No, honey is not bee poop, spit or vomit. This common misconception is due to the bee's use of its honey stomach (an expandable pouch) used to store nectar while it's transported back to the hive. The honey stomach mixes two enzymes with the nectar which begins the honey production process.
Bees store nectar inside their honey stomach, and it is neither vomited nor pooped out during the transfer process at the hive.
Some may argue that nectar is spat out during that transfer process, but no saliva is mixed with the nectar.
We go into greater detail below but first, let’s review the honey production process.
How do honeybees make honey?
For a deep dive into the honey-making process, click here. Below is a basic overview.
Honeybees are pollinators, as they collect nectar from flowers using their tongue. The bee then stores this nectar in its expandable honey stomach, also known as the foregut, crop, or sac.
The honey stomach stores two enzymes that mix with the nectar, beginning the honey production process.
After collecting the nectar and arriving at the hive, the honeybee regurgitates the nectar, passing it mouth-to-mouth to multiple other worker bees.
During this transfer process, the bees fan the nectar with their wings, reducing the moisture content. Once the water content is between 13 and 18 percent, it is considered honey.
The bees then preserve the honey by storing it in capped honeycomb.
So why can’t we consider honey bee vomit?
While regurgitation occurs as the honey passes from bee to bee, this is not considered vomit.
Inside the bee’s honey stomach, unwanted particles are filtered out with the help of a pulsating valve called the proventriculus. The particles are then swallowed into the bee’s midgut.
These particles can no longer return to the honey stomach, where the nectar is stored.
So, because the nectar would not be able to be regurgitated if passed to the midgut where the bee’s digestive system begins, we cannot consider it to be vomit.
It’s also important to point out that the honey stomach, although labeled a “stomach,” is a pouch located in the esophagus of the bee. Therefore regurgitation, not vomiting, is the correct term for the nectar transfer process.
Is Honey Bee Spit Or Saliva?
We did, in fact, mention two enzymes that the bee mixes into the nectar once it is passed through its mouth. But, it’s important to distinguish between saliva and the enzymes within that saliva.
Human saliva is primarily made of water.
The salivary glands of honey bees produce an oily secretion, and although there may be trace elements of water inside, it is not passed along to the honey stomach. The two enzymes, diastase and glucose oxidase, are components within the saliva and are the only two elements that mix with the nectar.
Therefore, we cannot consider nectar to be honey bee spit or saliva.
What Is Propolis Then?
Propolis may be one of the reasons there is confusion around the “is honey bee spit?” question.
When searching for nectar, bees also collect water and plant resin to produce “bee glue,” a resin used for hive maintenance. Propolis is used to seal unwanted open spaces within the hive. Some other uses include;
- stabilize and reduce vibration
- add insulation
- reduce water loss
- protect from predators, parasites, and pathogens
- seal the carcass of a dead animal to prevent putrification
Do Bees Poop?
Yes, bees poop. Scientists, beekeepers, and amateur naturalists have all observed bees pooping. Defecating is a common and essential bodily function for nearly all creatures on earth.
Worker bees carefully clean the hive, which means they poop outside. They’ll often wait to poop for long periods during cold winter months before taking short flights outside when the temperature and weather permits.
On the other hand, the queen bee rarely leaves the hive, which means worker bees remove her poop from the brood box.
Do Bees Pee?
We wrote a thorough post about how bees expel digestive waste. It’s quite fascinating! Click here to learn more.
Yes, Some Honey Is Made From Insect Poop
Now, we’ve already established that honey is regurgitated. Therefore, it cannot be honeybee poop.
Yet the common myth that honey is bee poop remains. This is likely because honey can be made from the feces of other insects like aphids.
Many insects consume the sap stored inside leaves. These insects are looking for pure protein within the sap. The insect then defecates the other elements in the form of a sticky substance called honeydew.
Nectar is the preferred substance honeybees search for, but when there isn’t enough nectar in that location, the honeydew droppings and overripe fruit are alternatives the bees will work with.
This means that the honey you eat may be produced, in part, by insect poop.
A Word About Honeydew Honey
Honeybees often mix honeydew with nectar from other flowers before storing it inside the capped honeycomb. It all depends on the availability of nectar in the area, but honeydew’s high sugar content makes honey bees eager to collect it.
Honeydew honey, also known as forest honey, bug honey, or tree honey, will often be darker than nectar honey. It is less sweet and can be sold at a higher price.
What’s more, honeydew honey could also be named after the tree the honeydew is collected from—for example, Pine Honey or Fir Honey.
Beekeepers use electrical conductivity tests to determine whether honeydew honey can be labeled as such. A minimum of 0.8 milliSiemens/cm must be met before it can be labeled honeydew.
Dysentery Caused By Nosema
One last element that may have confused the “is honey bee poop?” question is when many bees poop in or around the hive.
This will often occur when a hive contracts Dysentery due to Nosema, a parasitic disease that can devastate entire hives.
Luckily, the bees take care not to poop in the honey, but to an untrained eye, it may look like the excrement was part of the honey-making process.
Don’t be fooled!
So next time someone tries to convince you that honey is bee vomit, give them a quick lecture on how bees use their honey stomach to store and transport nectar to the hive.
Apicultruists have your back on this one!