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This question came anonymously to my website, so I couldn’t get any more details. I assume whoever wrote “Why do bees visit latrines … ?” meant to ask why bees investigate them, not why they use the facilities. But you never know.
I have never seen honey bees in a latrine. On the other hand, I don’t hang around latrines very often. But many beekeepers—myself included—have seen honey bees foraging on dog and horse waste. They seem to crave it.
A quest for salt and minerals
Just like most of the animal kingdom, honey bees need salt and trace minerals. Many bee species collect these items from human sweat if they can find it, while others collect them from urine or even feces. Mother nature doesn’t let things go to waste, so for every bi-product, there is a user.
Modern humans like to pretend salt is poison, but it’s vital for many processes in living organisms. Without it, we would all shut down quickly and be unable to think or move. Same with bees.
So if a bee has a craving for salt or some other mineral, she will seek out a source. Her choice might not meet your culinary standards, but she’s busy (as a bee) and doesn’t have time to be picky. Urine tends to be attractive for what it contains and the bee doesn’t give much thought to its origin.
But is the bee making honey?
The questioner seems to assume that the bee is simultaneously visiting latrines and making honey. Many non-beekeepers assume that if a honey bee is outside flying around, it must be making honey, which is simply not true.
If a honey bee is foraging, she could be collecting nectar for making honey or she could be on a search for water, plant resins, pollen, or even micronutrients. She might even be a scout looking for a new place to live. In any case, you can’t assume you know her mission.
But if she is looking for micronutrients, she may find them suspended in a liquid such as slimy water or even urine. Offhand, I’d say bees visiting a latrine are not intent on collecting nectar, although I wouldn’t rule it out completely.
Are the latrine visitors even bees?
Another question I have is whether the insects are even bees. Some insects are quite attracted to feces. Wasps, flies, beetles, or any other insect that eats dead or decaying matter may find a latrine an attractive foraging spot.
Without any training, it is difficult to tell the difference between bees and wasps. Remember that bees are just vegetarian wasps, so telling them apart can sometimes be tricky, even for the experts.
Honey is safe from the stuff bees find in latrines
Once again, I must read between the lines, but I’m assuming the writer of the question is uncomfortable with the idea of a honey bee stopping by the local outhouse, no matter the reason. Trust me when I say, it’s normal and not a problem.
The most awesome thing about honey—other than the taste—is that it has multiple properties that keep it pure. Nature designed it as long-term food storage, and it works better than anything mankind ever devised.
Basically, honey has four qualities that keep it safe to eat: a low pH, the presence of hydrogen peroxide, a high osmotic concentration, and specialized phytochemicals. So even if microbes got into the honey during production, they couldn’t survive and certainly could not reproduce.
Maybe the bees were just curious
Honey bees are curious creatures, so perhaps some were checking out the outhouse just to see what was there. Maybe it bore resemblance to an enormous hive.
Just remember that if honey is cured properly, it can remain safe for decades or longer. So don’t worry about a few bees circling the outhouse—it’s perfectly natural and entirely safe.
However, if you just want to gross out your unsuspecting friends, that’s an entirely different question, perhaps with a different answer.
Honey Bee Suite