Monday morning myth: honey is bee poop

I don’t know why this myth persists, but it does. Sometimes the person asks in a half-joking but tentative way, as if it might be true but they hope it’s not. Others are totally convinced it is true and want verification. Others are just curious because it’s something they heard somewhere.

This myth is followed in popularity by a second one: honey is bee vomit. Well, closer maybe, but still not true.

In fact, nectar is stored in an organ called the “honey stomach” which is part of the bee’s esophagus. But the honey stomach—also known as the honey sac, crop, or ingluvies—is a specialized organ designed to expand and store nectar until it can be ferried back to the hive.

Once the forager bee returns home she regurgitates the contents of the honey stomach and, through the process of trophallaxis, transfers it to a house bee. The house bee will begin to process the nectar into honey.

Honey bees also have an organ for digestion called the ventriculus or mid-gut. But the mid-gut occurs after the honey stomach and is separated from it by the proventriculus which is a muscular organ that regulates the opening between these two parts of the alimentary canal. Further down the line are the intestines, rectum, and anus. So the major parts of the esophagus and digestive system are lined up like this (arrows show direction of food movement):

mouth↔esophagus↔crop (honey stomach)→proventriculus→ventriculus (digesting stomach)→intestine→rectum→anus

So you see? Everything is separate. It may seem complex to us, but the bees know what they’re doing.

Rusty

Comments

RichWSmith
Reply

@HoneyBeeSuite who are these others that “are totally convinced [honey is bee poop] and want verification” I want to meet them ;-)

Nancy
Reply

We get that comment (“bee vomit”) from vegans all the time. (If you aren’t familiar with the term “vegan,” it refers to an agricultural pest that multiplies in growing season, clusters around farmers markets, and makes annoying sounds to tell us what we’re doing wrong.)

Your explanation of bee anatomy is clear and helpful, and I will use it. But there’s a functional as well as a structural explanation. “Vomit” is food that has been consumed for nutrition—not, as with nectar, for transport—but is rejected by the body because of some pathology in either the body or the food itself. That does not apply to nectar being transported by bees to feed other bees.

Goats browse all day and then sit down to chew food regurgitated from their rumen. They’re not “chewing barf” as I sometimes have to explain to rather young customers. Any more than my neighbor’s hens are “pooping out those eggs.”

That’s amusing, but I hate it when a 6- or 7-year old has apparently been told by a vegan parent that honey is “bee vomit.”

Rusty
Reply

But that all-purpose cloaca is hard to explain to young’uns—especially when the eggs pop out covered in poop.

Al
Reply

So if I make myself throw up it’s not vomit then?

Nancy
Reply

Al – I’d say making yourself throw up indicates some pathology.

Rusty
Reply

Amen.

Sarah
Reply

There are so many wonderful things to learn and discover, why must people persist in spreading these ignorant ideas as facts? Aren’t there billions of true things to talk about without muddling information?

Nancy
Reply

Chuckle. Good point about the cloaca, but I looked after Mom’s laying hens as a girl, and rarely was there ever poop on an egg. In fact today, my chicken-raising neighbors don’t wash the eggs, because they keep longer unwashed. Chickens with a good diet and plenty of space to forage, clean shelter and proper laying boxes, seem to separate their pooping and egg-laying functions very nicely.

People keep saying goats are “cute and fun, but they stink.” Well, no they don’t, again, if they have plenty of pasture, well-ventilated stalls and clean bedding. Even our buck doesn’t stink, and that’s saying something.

To Sarah: All we can do is show children the wonder in things and let them see that the truth is “cooler,” as well as more interesting, than some negative stereotype.

todd
Reply

You glossed over the process by which nectar becomes honey, which is, in fact, primarily a digestion and regurgitation process.

Rusty
Reply

Todd,

I don’t think I glossed over the process of honey production, it simply isn’t the subject of the piece. The subject is whether or not honey is bee poop, and I try to stay on point whenever possible. In any case, even though bees add enzymes to nectar in the honey stomach, the nectar never gets into the digesting stomach so I don’t consider honey production as part of the digestion process.

JD Mumma
Reply

Do you find that this statement about moisture content in nectar and honey to be true?
“Nectar is as much as 70 percent water, while honey is only about 20 percent water. Bees get rid of the extra water by swallowing and regurgitating the nectar over and over.” http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/insects-arachnids/bee6.htm
I understand that the bees wing flapping also reduces moisture content.

Rusty
Reply

That’s pretty much true. I’d say nectar can be as much as 80 percent water while honey is about 18 percent, but that is just nitpicking. The bees swallow the nectar and add enzymes to it. But do they swallow and regurgitate over and over? I don’t know. I’ve heard that theory before and I’ve also heard that bees blow bubbles through the nectar. I can’t verify either of those. They do, however, use their wings to fan the nectar and drive off the water that way. That, I believe, is the primary method.

Joe
Reply

I think that people continue to say that honey is “bee vomit” because regurgitation is a synonym for vomiting. Whether the bee vomits the nectar from the stomach it uses for digestion of its own food is irrelevant. If it is regurgitating, it is vomiting, and therefore honey cannot be produced without vomiting.

Nancy
Reply

Well, no, Joe, I think people continue to say “bee vomit” because they hold a doctrinaire view that beekeeping is “animal exploitation” and therefore, they will use whatever sensational or offensive term they can to turn others against it. Just as they refer to supervised animal breeding as “rape.” I have never heard anyone who USES honey refer to it as vomit.

“Vomit” is a lay term which is USED as a synonym for regurgitation, but the latter is a technical term indicating “expelled by the throat” – which, as in honey transport, may have nothing to do with the digestive stomach. QED.

Vegan
Reply

>>“honey stomach” which is, indeed, part of the bee’s alimentary canal (digestive system.) <<

Ok so an animal ingests nectar into a organ called a "stomach" that is apart of the animal's digestive system, and regurgitate it back up, but this is not considered vomiting? Ok. If you truly say so.

Rusty
Reply

Vegan,

No, that’s not what I’m saying. The honey stomach is part of the esophagus, not part of the digestive system. It is like a holding tank. If any part of the nectar from the honey stomach passes through the proventriculus into the digestive area, it cannot come back out.

The term “honey stomach” is just what people call it, but it is not a true stomach. In fact, it is a crop or ingluvies.

Vomiting is the expulsion of digested or partially digested material from the actual stomach. Nectar is not digested and has never been in a digesting stomach.

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