Inside a Honey Bee
Honey starts as a liquid solution called nectar, which is sucked up by honeybees as they go from flower to flower.
The nectar is pumped through the proboscis — the tongue — into a crop that is expandable. This crop is also known as the “honey stomach.” It’s in this crop that the honey-making process begins in the crop with the aid of salivary enzymes.
In the human body, the equivalent enzyme is in the saliva — alpha-amylase — which catalyzes the conversion of starch to maltose and dextrins.
Honeybees have this same enzyme as well as an additional one — glucose oxidase. This acts as a catalyst and converts glucose into hydrogen peroxide and gluconolactone. Hydrogen peroxide is especially important since it prevents microbial growth in the pre-honey solution at this stage.
What Happens in the Crop?
- Proventriculus: While the nectar is in the crop, the proventriculus — a pulsating valve — extends and filters out unwanted particles from the nectar. These particles can be moderate-to-small in size and are mainly pollen grains or infectious spores of intestinal parasites.
- Bolus: Once the bee has accumulated a certain number of particles, they’re swallowed into the midgut as a bolus.
- Peritrophic membrane: As the bolus leaves the proventriculus, it passes through a peritrophic membrane. Once the bolus has passed through this membrane, it’s impossible for it to go back through to the honey stomach.
- Dehydration: This is a time-consuming stage for the creation of honey. Here, the bolus is dehydrated and reduced to a fermentation-inhibiting 20 percent or lower moisture content.
- Regurgitation: To accomplish the dehydration, the now particle-free nectar is regurgitated out of the crop and suspended as a thin film, directly beneath the horizontally extended mouthparts.
- Beating wings: The bee will then begin the process of water evaporation, which is hastened by beating their wings.
- Back to the crop: After the film gets thicker, it’s pumped into the crop again, to get blended with the rest of the nectar.
- Comb cells: When it reaches the perfect moisture point, the honey is pumped into the comb cells and covered with beeswax.
Confirmation That Honey Isn’t Bee Vomit
After the food passes through the esophagus of a honeybee, it’s stored in the honey stomach. During this time, the bee is flying back to the hive.
Once the nectar goes through the proventriculus membrane, it simply can’t go back. Everything that passes through this valve moves on into the midgut, where it’s digested.
If you think about the equivalent process in humans, there’s a similarity. We use enzymes to break down our food, which passes into the digestive system, including the stomach. When we vomit, the contents go back in the same direction.
The difference here is that the processed nectar and bolus do not return the same way. The digested “food” can’t go back to the crop, which is why honey can’t be classed as vomit. The nectar that’s used to make honey only entered the crop, rather than where digestion takes place.
Further Biological Processes as Evidence
The nectar and pollen that pass through the proventriculus are digested by enzymes. These enzymes are secreted by the cells aligned with the ventriculus, which connects to the ileum — the bee’s equivalent to our small intestine. At that point, about 100 Malpighian tubules connect to the digestive tract.
The Malpighian tubules filter the waste products from the bee’s equivalent of blood. The waste — similar to urine — is discharged into the ileum. The liquid waste then joins the solid waste.
After removing the nutrients from the digested food, the ileum moves the waste along the digestive tract. Both the ventriculus and the Malpighian tubules’ waste products will go into the rectum, where it’s stored until the honey bee can defecate through the anus.
As you can see, the bee has a clearly defined process to produce honey, which is completely separate for processing waste products. As such, these defined biological processes are too different to claim that honey bee is vomit.
People around the world have different opinions about honey being vomit or not, but in the end, it’s all about the way you look at the digestive system of the honey bee. Honeybees have two stomachs; one for digesting food and the other to store the nectar.
Connected by a one-way valve, everything that goes to the digestive stomach can’t return. Since “vomit” is ejected matter from the stomach towards the mouth, we conclude that honey isn’t bee vomit.