While bees do produce honey from their mouths, it is certainly not bee vomit. Bees utilize two different stomachs to store both honey and food (although honey is usually what the bee eats). The act of producing honey from their mouths is called regurgitation, not vomiting; in fact, it’s actually impossible for bees to vomit.
Is Honey Actually Bee Vomit?
Many people assume a bee “throwing up” honey as an explanation for honey creation. This speculation is popular because of how honey is expelled from bees’ mouths. Fortunately, this notion is false. Honeybees are designed to turn nectar into honey through organs that are separate from their stomachs.
What Is Regurgitation?
Regurgitation refers to producing partially digested food. For certain species, regurgitation is a healthy pattern used for survival. For others, like humans, it’s a sign of ill health.
Think of a mother bird feeding her young. At lunchtime, the bird hacks up regurgitated food for baby birds to eat from. It sounds gross to us, but it’s completely normal for them since birds don’t carry food any other way.
Bees regurgitate nectar; however, the nectar is not eaten by others once expelled.
During regurgitation, the honey bee is not digesting food whatsoever. Once the honey bee has regurgitated a portion of the nectar into its mouth, it breaks down the sucrose molecules in the nectar into two simple sugars (glucose and fructose), by adding invertase, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose.
This breakdown of the sucrose molecules forms a small bubble that, after coming into contact with warm air inside the colony, evaporates the water from the nectar, producing thickened honey. This dehydration process is the most time-consuming step in this honey production process.
What Is the Difference Between Vomit and Regurgitation?
In the bee world, regurgitation is intentional. Vomiting is not voluntary for any species. In fact, it is impossible for bees to vomit.
Vomiting means throwing up the contents of the stomach organ. This is caused by poisoning or illness in animals and humans. It’s the body’s response to a threat in the stomach.
Regurgitation, however, refers to expelling the contents of the pharynx or oesophagus. Vomiting and regurgitation do not expel the same materials. Bees pump nectar through their “tongue” into their honey stomach, or “crop,” a portion of their alimentary tract (the organs involved in processing food) that’s thin-walled and expandable.
The honey stomach removes undesirable particles from the nectar, including spores of small intestinal parasites, and forms these particles into a bolus that the bee swallows into its midgut. From there, the clean nectar is regurgitated back out of the bee’s honey stomach and hangs in a thin film directly underneath its mouthparts.
From there, the dehydration process begins. The bee will pump the newly thickened nectar back into its honey stomach, blend it with any remaining nectar, and regurgitate it out again to continue its dehydration.
How Many Stomachs Does a Bee Have?
A honey bee has two stomachs: the foregut and the midgut. They also have a hindgut to get rid of excrement. The foregut is also known as the honey stomach or crop. This is where nectar is stored.
On the other hand, you can think of a bee’s midgut as its real stomach. This is where they digest food for themselves, which is usually honey.
When bees “drink” nectar, it doesn’t go to its real stomach right away. Bees eat by producing nectar from their honey stomachs. The nectar then makes its way to the midgut, the real stomach.
Since a bee’s midgut is not directly connected to the mouth, they are not able to vomit from their real stomach.
What Is a Honey Stomach?
The honey stomach, or foregut, is where nectar is churned so that it can become honey. The honey stomach hosts a special bacteria that the nectar mixes with before passing on. Honeybees can carry about 75 milligrams of nectar in their honey stomach, which is one-third of their total weight!
What’s the purpose of the honey stomach and how does it work?
The honey stomach is a reservoir for nectar and water, so no digestion happens in the honey stomach; however, it has the ability to soak up water from the nectar. This makes the substance thicker than nectar in flowers.
When honey bees pass nectar to each other, it goes from one honey stomach to the other bee’s honey stomach.
What happens to the nectar in the honey stomach?
The nectar sits in the honey stomach until the bee is ready to regurgitate or consume it. When a bee is doing either, they don’t produce all of the nectar at once.
The nectar goes through dehydration before it can become honey. This can also be known as nectar ripening. A bee regurgitates some nectar from its honey stomach and holds it in its jaws. It keeps the drop of nectar here to dehydrate it further.
The honey stomach continues to add nectar to the forming drop bit by bit. Once a decent size, the nectar is passed on to another bee or planted in a hive cell.
Does the nectar get digested in the honey stomach?
Nectar does not digest in the honey stomach. The honey stomach only holds the nectar. When a bee is hungry, the honey stomach pushes nectar out through a unique valve between its honey stomach and midgut called a “proventriculus.” This valve has rake-like projections that constantly pull particulates, like pollen grains, from the honey stomach’s contents and push them along for digestion to the bee’s actual stomach.
How the Nectar-Foraging Bee and Receiving Bee Work Together in Order to Make Honey?
Honey bee colonies are made up of roles. There are different jobs to carry out, just like in a human workplace. The two major roles in honey-making are nectar-foraging and receiving.
- Foraging: Nectar-foraging bees are the ones you see jumping from flower to flower. Their responsibility is to connect nectar from plants. This nectar is stored in their honey stomach to bring back to the hive. An average honey bee may visit 50 to 100 flowers at one time.
- Guarding: Receiving bees wait outside of the hive for foraging bees. They also guard the hive against unfamiliar bees. Once a foraging bee approaches, a receiving bee will validate the incoming bee by its pheromones.
- Receiving: Receiving bees receive a forager bee’s regurgitated nectar drop by drop. At the same time, the receiving bee is “taste testing” the nectar to ensure it is of good quality.
- Into the hive: Nectar foraging bees go back out for more nectar. Receiving bees enter the hive to start the honey-making process with their now-full honey stomachs.
These two groups of bees are why a hive can sustain itself. Interestingly, only female bees take part in these crucial jobs. The honey deposited into the hive is fed to the queen bee, drone (male) bees, and larvae. Nectar-foraging and receiving bees are able to feed themselves through the nectar-transferring process.
What Is Trophallaxis?
Trophallaxis is the transfer of food between bees. This is also seen in other insects, like some species of ants.
Trophallaxis makes honey-making possible. Additionally, it helps bees spread the queen bee’s pheromones across the hive. When receiving bees retrieve nectar from foraging bees, they pass on the queen’s pheromones. Trophallaxis also prevents female bees from developing sexual organs.
How Does Nectar Become Honey?
The nectar is regurgitated between worker bees until it’s dehydrated enough to stick to a honeycomb cell. The bees buzz their wings to air out the nectar in the cell to dry it further. Sometimes, bees will take up the developing honey again and transfer it to different cells.
A hive consumes at least 50 pounds of honey in a season, which doesn’t include winter. Beekeepers harvest extra honey for human consumption.