bee biology

Now speak the truth: is honey actually poop or vomit?

Bees, like this honey bee, are both insects and animals. In fact, all insects are animals. David Cappaert.

Why people insist that honey is either poop or vomit is beyond comprehension. Neither is true.

Inside: Is honey really bee poop or something else? Find out the facts and misconceptions about honey bees and honey in this informative blog post.

People are confused by a bee’s anatomy

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 gets 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

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.

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

  • 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.”

  • 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?

  • 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.

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

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • >>“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.

    • 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.

  • I was researching this topic on the web and came across your blog, and couldn’t help myself. I know this is from over a year ago, but as far as I learned, the digestive system starts at the mouth. The esophagus is the connection between the mouth and the stomach that food and ingested material to and from the stomach. So bees have 2 types of stomachs, but aren’t they both connected to the esophagus? The esophagus (and whatever is connected to it…organs and cells from mouth to rectum, or whatever it’s called in bees) IS part of the digestive system.

    • Nesali,

      Did you look at the diagram? Yes, the esophagus connects to both stomachs, but the honey stomach and the digesting stomach are separated by a one-way valve so that digested food cannot re-enter the honey stomach.

  • To those who say that the esophagus is part of the digestive system, I ask you this: are we eating air and vomiting carbon dioxide? The esophagus is a part of the respiratory system as well. That said, if the esophagus can be part of multiple systems in the human body, the same can be true in a bee body.

    • To those who say that the esophagus is not part of the digestive system, I ask you this: how are you going to get the food down there?

      Of course in the bee, the esophagus is not part of the respiratory system, so I guess it’s a moot point.

    • For those of you wondering, this video is of a little girl who claims that substance in her mouth that looks and tastes like chocolate, is really bee poop. How do kids come up with these things?

  • I have also heard vegans refer to honey as bee poop. How ignorant to tell a child this. I find that most vegans are smug self consumed ninnys. They should eat their weeds and be humble.

  • Personally, I just don’t want to consume something that comes from inside an animal or insect. Bettle secretions could very well possibly taste good, doesn’t mean I’m going to try it. Honey is stored in bee bodies & passed from mouth to mouth for their own usage. No thanks for me. Not all vegans are self righteous snobs. Some of us just find it gross.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I work on social media for the owner of American Bee Supply LLC in Kernersville, NC. You have some
    interesting articles that I would love to share with our beekeepers here in this area. Would you be open
    to linking or letting me link to your website? Please take a look at ours and tell me your thoughts.

    It is

    Thank you.

    Penny Fanning
    Marketing Coordinator

  • I love honey, and while I don’t refer to it as “vomit”, I do label it all “Bee Barf” and give it to my friends and family. So far no one has complained.

  • I did a little research on this subject and come across something helpful to the discussion. The biggest problem people are having is the fact that the crop is after the mouth and so must be a part of the digestion. It was also mentioned that we as humans use our esophagus for both digestion and breathing. But as pointed out, bees do not breath the way we do, so that must leave only digestion! This is incorrect! Just because we use it for 2 specific purposes, does not mean another creature cannot use it for different purposes. Many creatures, not just bees, use an organ known as a crop, birds do it for their young. If you actually look up what a crop is, it clearly states it is a compartment within the creature for transporting, and specifically states that it is prior to digestion!

    “A crop (sometimes also called a croup or acraw, or ingluvies) is a thin-walled expanded portion of the alimentary tract used for the storage of food prior to digestion. This anatomical structure is found in a wide variety of animals. It has been found in birds, some non-avian dinosaurs, and in invertebrate animals including gastropods (snails and slugs), earthworms, leeches, and insects.”

    That being said, in humans, digestion process begins with our saliva, similar with flies, in a reversing way. However, bees do not salivate, so therefore do not begin digestion until food passes beyond the crop. So, no it is not vomit, regurgitation is not the same as vomiting.

    “Vomiting is the forceful ejection of the stomach contents up the esophagus and through the mouth. Regurgitation is the backflow of undigested food (which has never reached the stomach) up the esophagus and through the mouth. Vomiting is a symptom of stomach, intestinal, kidney, liver, and other diseases.”

    … undigested food, but any substance held in the crop can be REGUGITATED. I think maybe I have said enough at this point. I must make it clear that I did not write all this to make anyone look foolish, until reading all this I did not know myself the answer to the initial question! Thank you, all of you for this information, and giving me more of a reason to research it… I now agree, it is neither vomit or poop!

  • Responding to Brad’s recent response:
    I too did “a little research”
    1) The “bees do not salivate” claim seems to contradict claims made in this article.
    “nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage.”
    Q1: So Brad are you saying that
    A) the enzymes do not get added
    B) enzymes are added but by some other term than “saliva”
    C) ?

    2) “so therefore do not begin digestion until food passes beyond the crop”
    “When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating the liquid into the other bee’s mouth. This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb.”
    Q2: So Brad are you saying that absolutely zero digestion happens to the nectar?

    • The Bee enzyme, as it is apparently called, is added to the nectar when it is inside the crop, so not saliva. As far as “zero” digestion goes, any given person can look up multiple websites and get contradicting information merely by the writers use of specific words! One site says the crop is before any digestion occurs, another uses the term partially digested, another site could say “the digested nectar is then put into the honeycomb”… that being said, I showed the info I found, not to join in or start more arguing, just to say hey, this is what I found! Every individual is free to look it up for themselves and come up with their own thoughts! For instance, I am waiting for someone to say “the bee enzyme that is added to the nectar, its purpose is to start turning the sucrose into glucose and fructose… isn’t that kinda like digestion?” And then a chemist would say “I can do that in a beaker, doesn’t make it digestion in a bottle” and then someone would say “But this is happening is the honey stomach, so it is digestion”… and on and on! It really is a matter of people perception, and what they want to be true! I really am grateful you brought that up though, like I said, everyone is allowed their voice! And I am not trying to argue, again, just showing what I have found! Do with the info what you will!

  • Trachea is for breathing only, air to lungs.
    Esophagus is for moving food to/from stomach…not breathing, ever.

  • So, bees have to have some form of elimination of waste products. Do they do this in the form of scat as other insects do?

  • I have been talking to a few friends recently who are Vegan and here is how I convinced them to have some of my honey (they witnessed how I work, it wasn’t a remote conversation)
    I have 2 British National Hives and a Top Bar Hive.

    The British National is organised and has the potential to have a bigger honey harvest than I allow. I treat the bees with love but you could argue that they are being manipulated just a little by encouraging them to make comb on a wax foundation frame.I inspect every two weeks just to see it’s all OK.

    I showed them that the top bar was an empty vessel with a row of wooden bars along the top which gives me access to the hive but they are also where the bees put their comb. If the hive is absolutely mathematically flat horizontally from all angles, the bees will make comb along the underside of the bars in lovely straight lines and that is it.
    The bees make comb just like they would in an empty tree log on its side.
    I do not treat with chemicals, I do not feed them anything. They make and store and eat their own honey.
    The bees have laboured around flowers and other plants including fruit and vegetables to bring back nectar pollen and propolis which they do naturally, while pollinating the plants that vegans eat.
    So, the bees are performing a 100% natural act and thankfully for us, make too much honey, of which I take a little.
    I am not ‘farming’ it for profit I am enjoying what the bees don’t need.
    It is a ‘subsidised hobby and costs me more than I get from sales…..but it’s my past-time, my hobby, my passion.
    I do not scrape (harvest) the pollen from their legs as they enter the hive.
    Bees don’t have to stay in the hive, they can leave any hive whenever they want to. It is never blocked.

    Why do I not ‘help’ them with food and chemicals to combat disease? Because that WOULD be an unnatural act.They will survive or die on their own strength, just as they would in nature.

    And I have to say, the ‘bee vomit’ argument has no foundation in fact.

    Are Vegans with pet dogs (or other pets) that have been trained be obedient unethical because the dog is not living the natural life it would live without the training?

    My bees do what comes naturally and I don’t coerce, force or train them to do otherwise.

    I Love Bees.

    There is an amazing book called ‘The Buzz About Bees’ by Jürgen Tautz. A bit scientific especially at the beginning but I always tell people to read it and find out how amazing the honey bee is.Well worth it.

  • Vegans seem to have found the solution. A product by the name of ‘bee free honee’. Only they are unaware, its products to make this ‘bee free honee’ are not entirely bee free, for the ingredients are apples, lemon juice and sugar cane. The apple blossoms need to be pollinated by honey bees to become apples.

  • Wow.. I’m shocked to read how many people either want to argue their point or don’t take the time to read, apply some thinking; then at least make an effort to comprehend. Their long winded comments are about as long as the initial sentence… it just seems to go on and on. Lol goodness…