I’ve spent decades trying to convince people that honey is not bee vomit. It perplexes me no end that so many folks can’t distinguish vomit from other substances. But for many, honey and vomit remain indistinguishable, strange as that may seem.
I’ve drawn diagrams, written explanations, and pleaded common sense, but a faction of the public is unswayed by any type of logic.
Even more incomprehensible, these theorists blithely smear honey on their toast even though they are fully convinced it’s vomit. A little weird, right?
All animals are not alike
I believe the misconception comes from a lack of biological knowledge. People seem to think all animals are built the same as humans. If we don’t have a honey stomach, neither do bees. Never mind that lots of animals have a crop—a holding cell, of sorts—in which food is temporarily stored before it enters the main part of the digestive system.
Many birds have a crop where food is stored to be digested later. This allows them to overeat while food is plentiful and digest it at leisure while safely tucked away from danger. It also allows them to ferry food home to the nest, very much like bees do. Other animals, including slugs, snails, leeches, earthworms, and many types of insects also have crops.
Other types of digestive organs are also common in the animal kingdom, such as gizzards, which aid in grinding food, and stomachs with multiple parts, such as those found in ruminants. It pays to remember that humans don’t have all the neatest gadgets—just some.
Choices we can’t make
In insects, the crop is also known as the ingluvies. It occurs before the proventriculus, a valve that marks the beginning of the true digestive system.
A foraging bee can store fresh nectar in its crop for transport back to the hive. Or, if the forager needs to drink or eat, it can pass the nectar onto the proventriculus to begin digestion.
So, yes, I can see where that is hard to understand, but it’s no more mysterious than a queen deciding she will fertilize one egg, but not another. I mean, what does that feel like? Some things in the insect world are beyond our comprehension, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real.
A one-way valve
The proventriculus is cool because it’s a one-way valve. It allows nectar to pass from the crop to the true digestive system, but not the other way around. In other words, bees cannot regurgitate the contents of their true stomach, only the contents of their honey stomach. This is the part the vomit believers don’t get.
If you look up the word vomit, you will see something like “to eject matter from the stomach through the mouth.” The word “stomach” in this definition refers to the true stomach, not the honey stomach. Perhaps that’s the source of confusion. We would be better served referring to the honey stomach as the crop or ingluvies, instead of a variation of the word stomach.
Perhaps I should add these words to my English for Beekeepers series, yes?
A losing battle
People don’t like to believe bees have a digestive organ they lack. On the other hand, those same people freely admit humans don’t have wings, stingers, antennae, or six appendages. Those parts are okay, but somehow a honey stomach crosses the line.
I have decided to give up a battle I can’t possibly win. From now on, when someone wants to wax eloquent on the subject of bee vomit, I will let it go. After all, the information is out there if anyone cares.
Some people like to be contrary, so maybe if I start saying, “Yes! Honey is bee vomit!” people will start disagreeing. In this case, that would be a good thing.
Honey Bee Suite