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Honey is bee poop? Or is it vomit?

You hear it all the time, so it must be true. 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 is true and want verification. And some are just curious because it’s something they heard.

This myth is followed in popularity by a second one: honey is bee vomit. Well, closer maybe, but still not true.

In fact, nectar is stored in an organ called the “honey stomach” which is 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 ferried 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.

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. Further down the line are the intestines, rectum, and anus. So the major parts of the esophagus and digestive system are lined up like this (arrows show direction of food movement):

mouth↔esophagus↔crop (honey stomach)→proventriculus→ventriculus (digesting stomach)→intestine→rectum→anus

So you see? Everything is separate. It may seem complex to us, but the bees know what they’re doing.

Rusty

Honey Bee Suite

Comments

RichWSmith
Reply

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

Nancy
Reply

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.”

Rusty
Reply

But that all-purpose cloaca is hard to explain to young’uns—especially when the eggs pop out covered in poop.

Al
Reply

So if I make myself throw up it’s not vomit then?

Nancy
Reply

Al – I’d say making yourself throw up indicates some pathology.

Rusty
Reply

Amen.

Sarah
Reply

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?

Nancy
Reply

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.

todd
Reply

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

Rusty
Reply

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.

JD Mumma
Reply

Do you find that this statement about moisture content in nectar and honey to be true?
“Nectar is as much as 70 percent water, while honey is only about 20 percent water. Bees get rid of the extra water by swallowing and regurgitating the nectar over and over.” http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/insects-arachnids/bee6.htm
I understand that the bees wing flapping also reduces moisture content.

Rusty
Reply

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.

Joe
Reply

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.

Nancy
Reply

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.

Vegan
Reply

>>“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.

Rusty
Reply

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.

Nesali
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

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.

Genesis
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

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.

Lynn Jenkinson
Reply

Thank you so much for such an informative site!!

Lynn Jenkinson
Reply

BTW, not all vegans are so obnoxious, lol.

Rusty
Reply

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?

Beautiful chaos
Reply

So is it bee vomit or bee poop?

Rusty
Reply

Neither. Bees are not mammals and not limited to two choices.

John Tesauro
Reply

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.

Shannon
Reply

Great thread. Very informative. I’m siding with vomit as l sip my tea sweetened with honey.

China
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

Fine. Whatever. No one is forcing you.

Penny Fanning
Reply

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 http://www.americanbeesupplyllc.com

Thank you.

Penny Fanning
Marketing Coordinator

Rusty
Reply

Penny,

You may certainly link to my site. I looked over your website it looks very professional. I wish you the best with your business and with your bees.

Granny Roberta
Reply

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.

Ibrahim Suleiman
Reply

What really mean by bees poop?

Rusty
Reply

“Poop” is popular slang from excrement or feces.

Brad
Reply

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!

Rusty
Reply

Brad,

That definition of a crop is a good one to remember. Thanks.

JD Mumma
Reply

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 livescience.com article.
“nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage.” https://www.livescience.com/37611-what-is-honey-honeybees.html
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.” https://www.livescience.com/37611-what-is-honey-honeybees.html
Q2: So Brad are you saying that absolutely zero digestion happens to the nectar?

Brad
Reply

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!

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