Is honey really bee vomit?

Dear Cecil: Is it true honey is really … bee vomit? Lisa, Chicago

Cecil replies:

Well … yeah. This isn’t something the Honey Marketing Association is going to make the centerpiece of its next ad campaign, but the fact is that honey is made from nectar the worker bees regurgitate, which is a polite way of saying vomit.

The bees collect the nectar from flowers and store it in their “honey stomachs,” separate from their true stomachs. On their way back to the hive they secrete enzymes into it that begin converting the stuff into honey. Once in the hive they yuke up the nectar and either turn it over to other workers for further processing or else dump it directly into the honeycomb. The bees then beat their tiny wings to fan air through the hive to evaporate excess water from the honey. Last they cover the honeycomb cell with wax, figuring hey, we worked like dogs, but at least now we’ll be able to get a snack whenever we want. Suckers. The humans steal the honey, pack it in bottles, and there you go — direct from the bees’ guts to yours.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, gosh, Unca Cecil, what other fun facts do you know about bees? Well, in my opinion, you can never know too much about an insect’s sex life. Did you know that proportionally to its body size, the genitalia of a drone bee are among the largest of any animal on earth? Mention this to the girls over bridge and you’ll definitely get the conversation off Tupperware.

The size of its equipment is thought to be directly related to the drone’s post-coital fate, namely death. My bee book notes, “[the genitals] are contained in the abdomen and presumably getting them out of the abdomen for the purpose of mating places such a strain on [the bee] that it dies in the process.” As I understand it, the proximate cause of the drone’s demise is that its privates are (urk) ripped off during the act. One more reason for caution, boys, when we are fumbling in the dark.

One last thing. Despite its status as bee stud, the drone is not itself produced as a result of sex. On the contrary, it develops from an unfertilized egg. (Fertilized eggs become either workers or queens.) My bee book drolly comments, “Thus the queen bee is capable of parthenogenesis and drone bees have no father, only a grandfather.” You think your family is dysfunctional, be glad you’re not a bee.

What goes down must come up

Dear Cecil:

You erred in describing honey as “bee vomit.” Strictly speaking it is bee regurgitation. Regurgitation is the voluntary bringing up of nutrients. Vomiting is involuntary.

— Marty, Chicago

If it looks like vomit, walks like vomit, and quacks like vomit, I say it’s vomit. My trusty American Heritage Dictionary, I’m happy to say, backs me up.

Cecil Adams

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