Is Honey Bee Poop? – What Have We Been Eating?

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Honey is one of the most popular naturally sweet foods on the planet. You see it everywhere; in jars, in desserts, in drinks, and in many other recipes. But, to my horror, I have heard some people saying that honey is actually the excrement of bees. What’s the truth? Is honey bee poop?

Quite simply, honey is NOT bee poop. Yes, it’s made naturally by bees but I’d compare it more to how mammals produce milk; that’s because it is not a waste product.

If you’ve ever been put off eating honey because of the notion that it’s poop, you can rest assured that you’re not eating anything gross. Let’s learn a little more.

What Is Honey And How Do Bees Produce It?

Consider for a moment that honey isn’t produced by bees for human consumption. It just so happens that we discovered this substance was sweet and edible so, as with many other animal products, we began to harvest it.

That happened thousands of years ago and there’s evidence to suggest that the first honey was harvested around 7500 BC. The first established beekeeping took place in Ancient Egypt more than 4500 years before Christ. It’s certainly not something that the modern man can lay claim to.

Honey is actually a substance that bees make for their own sustenance. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it because these insects are totally self sufficient. They gather pollen and nectar from flowering plants which they then turn into honey which is used to feed the brood and the colony. Over winter, a colony will store honey in the honeycomb cells and this acts as a source of nutrition during the colder months when the bees cannot go out to forage.

So, what actually is honey?

Well, it’s basically a sugary substance which passes through the bee and is ‘processed’ (I’ll look more at this later on) but since it’s not a waste product, it certainly can’t be classed as poop. I should also point out that some people refer to honey as bee vomit and again, this simply isn’t the case.

The Honey-Making Process

In the case of the honey bee (although some other species of bees are capable of making honey to a lesser extent), the female worker bees will fly out of the hive each morning in search of nectar and pollen.

While pollen acts as a source of protein, the nectar contains important carbohydrates for the bee but they don’t eat it straight away. It’s actually stored in a honey stomach where the bees retain the nectar until it arrives back at the hive. This is a separate stomach from the one in her digestive system although it is possible for her to transfer some of the nectar to her main stomach if she is hungry during her foraging flight.

When the female worker bee arrives back at the hive, she will transfer the nectar from her honey stomach, via her mouth, to the bees that are working inside the hive. These honey-producing bees then pass the nectar between one another, using their mouths, to reduce the water content of the liquid.

It is this dehydration of the nectar that turns it into honey and, once the process is complete, the bees will return the substance to their honey stomachs where enzymes break down the sugars. When this is complete, the bees regurgitate the resulting liquid (honey) and use their wings to fan it to remove any last bits of moisture. They then store it in honeycomb cells for later use. The cells are capped with wax to keep the honey free from contaminants and it may be used to feed potential new queens or over the course of winter for the entire colony. That is, if humans don’t come and harvest it first.

With that said, it’s worth noting that, if you are a beekeeper, you should never take all of the honey out of any given hive. It’s recommended that you leave at least 90-100 lbs for the bees. When working with a new colony, it’s perfectly possible that you may not be able to harvest anything in the first year and may even have to provide bees with alternative nourishment through the first winter.

So, with all things considered, yes, the honey does enter the bees’ bodies and it is regurgitated but not as a waste product, so it isn’t vomit. Since it doesn’t come out of the anus, it also cannot be considered poop.

Do Bees Poop?

Understanding that honey is not bee poop, this leads many people to mull over the question of whether bees poop at all.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty; poop is essentially the waste that is produced after food has been digested and all the goodness (nutrients) have been absorbed by the body. It’s basically all the stuff that the individual doesn’t need, so it’s excreted.

Most animals that ingest food need to get rid of the waste (believe it or not, there are some organisms that don’t poop at all but bees aren’t one of them.)

In the case of bees, they have a fully functional digestive system that includes the mouth, the esophagus, the honey stomach, the regular stomach, the intestines, and the rectum.

The rectum is located just above the bee’s stinger and it’s from here that all waste is expelled. Some bees will defecate outside of the hive but the majority of individuals will use the hive as their own personal toilet and other bees will clean up after them; talk about teamwork!

Is Honey Completely Safe To Eat?

With the concern that honey is bee poop or vomit (which it isn’t) it’s no surprise that some people are dubious about eating it. However, as we have learned, honey is not a waste product and while it does come out of the bee’s body, so do many other products that we eat. Consider that most of us drink cow’s milk; is this really any different?

For the most part, honey is perfectly safe for humans to consume. That is, of course, on the assumption that the honey isn’t contaminated.

One of the biggest risks that comes with eating honey is the risk of the liquid being contaminated with C.botulinum which is a spore that can cause a disease called botulism. This condition can cause a range of nervous system symptoms and is particularly dangerous to pregnant women or children under the age of one.

According to Healthline, around 20% of all botulism cases in children under 12 months come as a result of eating contaminated honey.

That said, considering how much honey is consumed worldwide (around $8453.71 million annually) compared with the number of botulism cases (only 110 annually in the US), the chances of any problems are incredibly low.

Final Thoughts

Have you ever put off eating honey because somebody told you that it was bee poop? If that’s the case, you can put your worries to bed right now. Is honey bee poop is a question I get asked a lot and I can confidently say that, no, it isn’t.

Honey is in no way a waste product. It’s not poop and it certainly isn’t vomit. Plus, it’s perfectly safe to eat for humans and has a range of health benefits so, get that jar and start enjoying the sweet treat.