Isn’t it frustrating when you’re eating a delicious bit of honey, and your brain hits you with a curveball like, “Do bees poop? And if they do, what are you eating?” Similar questions have been plaguing people for centuries, especially those who are parents of little children who can’t filter those questions until after dinner. So let’s take the time to see if and where bees poop.
Honey bees poop. Defecation is a crucial part of a bee’s life. Different bees poop in different places. For example, worker bees never poop inside the hive, taking occasional cleaning flights instead. The queen bee also poops, but the workers clean out her excrement since she never leaves the hive.
It’s clear that bees are very hygienic creatures that want to keep their living areas tidy, so they don’t “go where they eat.” They aren’t too unlike humans in that way. In fact, despite how unlikely it may seem, there are many fascinating things to be said about how bees poop. So without wasting any time, let’s study it a bit more.
How Do Bees Poop?
Bees must eat to stay alive, just like the rest of us. If it doesn’t get sustenance, a bee will die, and eventually, the species will go extinct. Bees eat nectar and pollen. Not all of this is required by their bodies, so some part of what they ingest must be expelled from the body at a later stage, which is why bees have to poop.
A bee’s digestive system involves a few specific cycles similar to the human digestive process, with a few distinct differences.
The first cycle is eating. Bees don’t eat with their mouths, at least not directly. Instead, bees will take pollen and nectar into their mouths and swallow it, but instead of taking it into their digestive system, it is stored in a separate part of the bee’s foregut, known as the “honey stomach.” The honey stomach is not a part of the bee’s digestive system.
When the bee eats, some of this pollen-and-nectar mix is pushed from its honey stomach into its digestive stomach (a part of the bee’s midgut), where it is digested. Nutrients are absorbed by the bee’s circulatory system (which is significantly different from a human’s). After absorbing the nutrients, the rest is then pushed into the hindgut.
The bee’s hindgut contains the small intestine and the rectum. It compresses the waste and expels it from the body through the rectum.
What Does Bee Poop Look Like?
Bee poop is sticky and yellow. That may lead to some concern; don’t worry, there’s a vast difference between bee poop and honey, but more on that later.
Bee poop is more solid than honey. The excrement typically comes out as tiny, sticky, yellow balls or blobs. It shouldn’t have any distinct smell or taste unless the hive is contaminated with disease or if the bee itself is ill.
Where Do Different Honey Bees Poop?
Different classes of bees poop in different areas. There are four distinct classes of bees: the queen, larvae, drones, and workers. Their class determines where they are allowed to poop and what happens to the poop afterward (which is quite similar to humans in the middle ages, when you think about it).
All bee classes, except for the workers, poop in their living areas. This is a necessary evil since they never leave the hive. Of course, this is not a healthy situation since there are often bacteria and viruses in the poop. If left for too long, the poop can contaminate the hive, and the bees can get various diseases, including dysentery. So it’s crucial for the poop to be cleaned up.
Worker bees spend most of their time outside of the hive, giving them the opportunity to defecate freely in the open air. They can just fly out anytime and release the pressure. They can poop while flying, but they often land somewhere to go number two. This can often be on the same flowers that they are eating from.
Worker bees are also the ideal candidates to remove all the poop from the hives. When they leave the hive, they simply carry as much poop as they can with them and release it out in the open.
Scientists have recently become concerned about the fact that worker bees defecate on flowers. The possibility of them catching diseases from the poop left there by other bees from other hives is a significant threat. That threat can even affect humans who may inadvertently carry feces-covered flowers into our homes.
It is still a matter that’s being studied in further depth, but it is a matter of concern.
What About The Cold Winter Months?
Bees don’t like cold weather. They don’t function well in cold temperatures, so even the worker bees have to stay inside the hive for a few months at a time. This is a dangerous situation for the hive since not only are there more bees in there that also have to poop, but the regular feces-removal service isn’t running anymore, creating a genuine threat of disease.
Thankfully, many viruses don’t like the cold either, so there is a slightly reduced risk of severe infection during winter.
Worker bees can hold their feces in for months at a time if they have to, so spring is a time of great relief for them. It’s even possible that the yellow spots you see on your car during springtime are the result of a worker bee that’s been holding it in for months. But what about the poop cluttering up the rest of the hive?
Scientists have recently found that bees will sometimes eat the feces of other bees. If the feces is uninfected, it can improve the bee’s immune system and help increase the herd immunity of the hive. Diseases can effectively be prevented by bees doing this, and it helps to keep the place clean and sanitary, too.
It’s also not uncommon for worker bees to take quick cleansing flights in winter. This doesn’t happen often. It’s mostly a short out-and-in trip, and it occurs only when the worker bee can no longer hold it in.
There are also indications of the workers occasionally pooping inside the hive. Still, they instinctively try to avoid this since it clutters up the hive even more, which is the exact opposite of the thing that they should to be doing.
Do Queen Bees Poop?
As Trevor Noah said, poop is the great universal equalizer. Everyone poops, even the queen bee. She also eats to survive, and just like all the other bees, she also has to poop, which she does in her living quarters, leaving it for the workers to clean up.
Unlike the other bees, though, the queen bee found a way to weaponize her feces.
Queen bees often spray their opponents with feces during battles to assert dominance. The goal is to attract worker bees to overwhelm the competing queen, after which the one with the most mobility can go in and sting her opponent, immobilizing her.
These fights mainly occur between virgin queens to determine who will be the queen of the hive. There have also been occurrences where the queen would spray her feces over anything that she deemed to be a threat.
Can Honey Bees Get Diarrhoea?
Though bee poop is generally quite solid or blob-shaped, bees can have diarrhea. They can get diarrhea in one of two cases:
- When the bee has been holding it in for too long. As we saw, worker bees hardly ever defecate inside the hive. They prefer to hold it in for as long as possible whenever they can’t leave the hive for whatever reason, like in winter. The problem is that if they hold it in for too long, they may develop diarrhea as their little bodies try to get rid of the contaminants.
- Disease. Bee Dysentery is a severe disease that can strike a bee hive. The contamination spreads quickly and could be fatal for the entire hive. One sign that a bee could have dysentery is diarrhea. Beekeepers keep a fine eye on the signs of diarrhea so they can take appropriate action if it turns out to be a disease.
Bees May Use Poop For Defense
Eastern Honeybees are known to use poop to defend their hive. They are under constant threat of the murder hornets, and poop is an effective way to repel the attacking force. However, the honeybees don’t use their own poop for these defenses.
Rather ingeniously, they have learned to use the feces of other animals to stack around their hives so that the smell will drive the murder hornets away. This isn’t necessarily 100% effective, depending to a great extent on the type of feces and how motivated the hornets are, but this practice has saved a number of bee hives in the past.
Is Honey Bee Poop?
This is the question that everyone’s wondering about, isn’t it? Who can ever feel comfortable eating honey again if they know that what they’re eating is bee feces? But the good news is, no, honey is not bee poop.
As we’ve discussed before, bees eat pollen and nectar with their mouths, which are then stored in their honey stomachs. The honey stomach is not a part of the bee’s digestive system. It’s rather like a carry pouch that’s built into the bee. If the bee needs nourishment, it can then move some of the pollen and nectar into its digestive tract, but the rest is kept in the honey stomach.
When the bee returns to its hive, it regurgitates the contents of the honey stomach into a little wax hexagon, where moisture is gradually drained from the mixture until it forms honey.
Note that the word there is “regurgitate,” not “vomit.” Bees can vomit, but it’s an entirely different matter. Vomit involves the digestive system of the bee, which the honey stomach is not a part of. There is no digestive fluid in honey, so honey is not bee vomit, bee spit, or bee poop.
Some Interesting Facts About Bee Poop
Bee feces is an interesting thing. Here are some little-known facts about bee poop.
- Scientists can study bee feces to determine if there are diseases in the hive. If one of the worker bees picked up an illness and took it into a hive, the feces is the first place to find traces of it. This can be as simple as looking at the patterns and consistency or involve complex lab experiments to determine which viruses are present in a bee hive.
This is an essential field of study since it can also predict the spread of viruses and other diseases that might threaten crops, livestock, or even humans.
- Scientists also study bee poop to find out which plants were pollinated by the bees in a particular hive. Traces of different types of pollen can be found in any product a bee produces, including honey and feces.
Projects that attempt to re-populate certain plant species will often study the honey and feces of bees in the local area to determine how effective the pollination project was.
- Bee feces is not poisonous and generally not harmful to humans or other animals. Since bees are such hygienic creatures, their excrement is mostly clean and not dangerous. Their digestive tracts contain no toxic chemicals or bacteria. This means that, even if there was a piece of bee poop in your honey, it’s nothing to be concerned about.
- Bee poop can really make a mess. Though it’s mainly focused around the hive, spring is the time when worker bees release their built-up pressure, which creates a huge mess. They often cover cars in thin yellow lines and tiny splatters. It’s nothing to be concerned about, but it can be challenging to clean since bee poop is so sticky.
If you reside in the countryside or a neighborhood with plenty of trees and flowers, it would be wise to determine the path that bees generally travel in your area and avoid parking your car near those places. It probably won’t stop the yellow splatters entirely, but it will at least help a bit.
Bees can, and must, poop. Even though bee poop looks a bit like honey (but a lot less transparent), there’s a vast difference. Understanding how, when, and where bees defecate can clear up some common misconceptions, freeing us to eat and enjoy the healthy sweetness they created.