Is Honey Bee Vomit – Seriously?
Seriously, this is one of those ideas that began with a little bit of fact and a whole lot of misunderstanding. Part of the problem is statements one reads in books about honey bees: “the worker bee returns to the hive and regurgitates nectar to a house bee”. Um Yuk. What does that mean exactly? Is honey bee vomit?
The Process of Nectar Collection
Honey is a substance made by honey bees. It is made from plant nectar that is collected from flowers or extra-floral nectaries.
Many flowers secrete nectar to lure pollinators like bees. Some plants secrete nectar in other places too – leaf joints etc.
The older worker honey bees in a hive are the foragers. These bees go out in search of rich food sources.
When an especially good nectar source is found, the sweet liquid is gathered. The bee colony continues to work that type of plant until the nectar flow is over.
Now, how do bees get this liquid nectar from the flower bloom back to the hive?
Contrary to some cartoons images you may see, they do not carry little buckets along with them. Though since a bee is a insect with 6 legs, perhaps they could if they wanted to.
No, the honey bee has a more ingenious method of collecting plant nectar. When a nectar source is found, the worker bee uses her proboscis to lap and suck up the liquid.
The proboscis (considered the tongue of the bee) is actually made up of several mouth parts. These come together to form a straw like structure allowing nectar collection.
Honey Stomach of the Honey Bee
We need to take a quick peek into the subject of honey bee anatomy. A honey bee actually has 2 organs that could be referred to as stomachs.
The first structure is called a “crop” or honey stomach. When the honey bee is eating, material passes to the honey stomach first.
Then, it leaves the honey stomach through a valve called the proventriculus into the true stomach. Digestion takes place in the true stomach not the honey stomach.
When the honey stomach of a foraging bee is full, she heads back to the hive. Bees choose the best and closest food source at any given time.
However, they can forage from farther away. The need to be able to carry nectar from several flowers to make their foraging efficient.
Worker Bee Transferring Honey to House Bee
Back at the hive, the foraging worker bee finds a house bee to receive her harvest. The contents of the crop or “honey stomach” is regurgitated into the mouth of the house bee.
Now, the foraging honey bee is free to go back out and look for more sweet nectar for the hive. The house bee with the fresh nectar, now in her honey stomach, continues the process of making honey.
What is Regurgitation?
Here is where the misunderstanding over “is honey bee vomit” gets started. Many resources say the nectar is regurgitated and transferred to another bee.
The term regurgitation is commonly associated with sickness in humans. Everyone remembers that awful experience when the contents of your stomach decides to make another appearance.
But for honey bees, this is not the same situation by any means. Regurgitation is defined as “when swallowed food is brought back up to the mouth.”
The nectar collected by the forager will receive some enzymes while in the honey stomach. The enzyme Invertase, begins the process of transforming nectar into honey.
However, no real digestion is taking place. The material that is passed to the house worker bee is not partially digested food.
The bee is not sick. She is simply transferring her collection to another bee.
Nectar Becomes Honey
The process of making honey from nectar involves 2 main steps. First, the water content of nectar is reduced. Then, enzymatic changes to the major sugars completes the transformation process.
In fact, the original nectar collected by a field forager, changes hands (mouth to mouth) several times. This continues from bee to bee until the honey is “ripe”?
Then the finished product is sealed into honeycomb cells for storage. Watery nectar would spoil easily. Honey does not spoil.
When You Eat Honey are You Eating Bee Vomit?
No, absolutely not. Honey is not bee throw up. Honey is not bee vomit or bee poop. Honey is not bee spit.
Relax and enjoy this wonderful product that the honey bees gracefully share with us.
And, it’s more than just good food for bees and humans. You can find many other uses for honey.