You hear it all the time, so it must be true: honey is bee poop. 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’s true and want verification. And some are just curious.
This myth is followed in popularity by a second one: honey is bee vomit. Well, closer maybe, but still not true.
A separate stomach for the nectar
In fact, nectar collected from flowers is stored in an organ called the “honey stomach.” The honey stomach is actually a 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 carried 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 by adding enzymes that invert the sugars.
Food flow through the honey bee
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. The proventriculus is a one-way valve.
Further down the line are the intestines, rectum, and anus. The major parts of the esophagus and digestive system are lined up like this (arrows show the direction of food movement):
mouth↔esophagus↔crop (honey stomach)→proventriculus→ventriculus (digesting stomach)→intestine→rectum→anus
Stuff in the digestive stomach moves on
So you see? Everything is separate. The nectar for making honey never gets into the digesting stomach. The small amount of nectar that does go into the digesting stomach to fuel the bees’ flight cannot be regurgitated because of the one-way valve. The honey that makes it into the digesting stomach is broken down before it becomes bee poop.
It may seem complex to us, but the bees have a natural system to keep their food clean. If they didn’t, honey wouldn’t last very long at all and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
Honey Bee Suite