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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
I guess that’s why the septic truck is called the “honey wagon.”
An interesting post as always. I thought you might be interested in my own experiences – for all sorts of reasons, for years I’ve collected pee in a watering can, for subsequent use around the garden – aid to compost and to deter various animals at certain times of the year – rabbits/foxes/badgers. It works really well!
But… as I describe in my “Kick the can” article, for the last 3 years, on occasions I have to gently kick the can before using it, to avoid the sudden shock of having a honeybee exiting, mid-flow. Like you, I’m assuming (since I’m not diabetic), that they’re after minerals. It doesn’t happen all the year, only for limited periods.
Best wishes, Julian
PS Loved your last post too about honey bee impact on native bees and other pollinators.
I’ve never seen honey bees on pee puddles or outhouses, but I do see them in the compost pile where the used (biodegradable) cat litter goes. Sometimes that pile is quite mucky. Ugh. But I find it a bit reassuring to think that bees are foraging water OR propolis OR minerals OR nectar OR pollen. Although I’m pretty sure the nectar foragers also bring home incidental pollen, so maybe I’m not 100% reassured.
Also, I mean, do ya KNOW where milk comes from! : )
The thing I don’t understand is why my dog snacks from the cat litter box. The vet kept telling me he would grow out of it. Now, 11 years later, I doubt it.
Gee, given your lovely story about cemetery honey, just think – if you’d investigated this thread as a child you might have given up honey altogether. And then where would we all go for our fix of beautifully written prose about the little buzzers? Not to mention scads of sensible analysis.
Note: your main page “Recent comments” bot seems to be broken. I hadn’t seen any updates for days, so I dropped into the Blog tab to get my fix via some random topic. Surprise, the “recent comments” sidebar on articles is up-to-date; in the meantime I had missed 2 whole blog entries and most of the comments on “How far do honey bees travel”
Thanks for the sweet compliment! “Cemetery Honey” remains one of my favorite posts.
As for the “Recent Comments,” I appreciate the heads up. I’m usually the last to know these things because I usually see the site from the logged-in position, which hides things, I think. A few days ago, though, the whole thing felt buggy and I couldn’t figure out why. I will do some random checking and try to find the problem. Thanks again for letting me know.
Thanks, gap in E TN for telling Rusty about the Recent Comments. I tried to comment on that and it took so terribly long to balance the “heads up” and the “whiny-babying,” that when the innerwebs just swallowed my comment, I threw up my hands and gave up.
With great interest, I read your title “Why do bees visit latrines as they make honey.”
All living creatures that move around the earth need to feed their cells with nutrients. In bees, this is done through the hemolympha. But who starts (move) the hemolymph? Certainly, it is the heart. In order for muscle spasm of the heart (contraction), a microcurrent is required. Each cell contains two pumps. Na (sodium) passes through one and K (potassium) through the other. According to Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, there is a potential (electrical) difference between these two elements. This potential difference gives some micro, micro, microcurrent. A million of these cells provide a microcurrent sufficient to produce a spasm (contraction) of the heart muscle. K (potassium) bees find in pollen, but Na (sodium) is lacking in the pollen, especially if the lithology of the soil is low in sodium. According to me, this is the reason why bees we see in a liquid such as slimy water or even urine.
They collect dung and smear it on the outside of their hive entrances in order to block the smells of their hive from invading predator wasps. This is why they are seen doing this activity. It is widely known.
It’s not widely known by me. Send some references.
That’s ok Rusty. I didn’t mean to be rude. Just literally Google bees use poop to defend and protect. The results abound…
My audience is overwhelmingly in North America. All the articles you mention are about Apis cerana, a species that does not exist in North America. Apis cerana, the Asian honey bee, is found primarily in South, Southeast, and East Asia, although I believe it was introduced into Australia as well. I have never heard or read about this habit in Apis mellifera, the honey bee species we have here.
Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if such behavior did occur (if it works for survival, why not?) but records show that Apis mellifera is the second most studied organism on earth, right after humans. So if Apis mellifera was doing that, surely someone would have noticed.
Where are you from?
Wow awesome points!
I suppose i assumed the beehavior was universal.
I am FloridaHoneyBees on ig