Since honey bees foraging for nectar slurp up the sweet stuff from flowers and the regurgitate it back up at the colony or hive, etymologists sometimes jokingly refer to honey as bee vomit. Others pick up this quip for shock or gross-out value.
When a honey bee reaches a flower, she slurps up as much of the sweet, floral nectar as she can. Although she does store this nectar inside her body, it is not in her regular stomach, but in a special stomach called a crop. This crop is actually a very sophisticated solution for the bee. It is connected via a one-way valve (often called the honey stopper) to the stomach. Nectar can pass from the crop to the stomach, but not vice versa. This way, should the bee run low on energy, she can transfer a bit of nectar to her stomach.
The crop is a bit more than just a storage sac since some enzymes such as glucose oxidase, diastase, and invertase are excreted by special glands and mixed with the nectar. These enzymes break down the sugars in the nectar into simpler sugars, making it easier to digest and also helping to ward off bacteria.
The bee then transports the nectar back to the colony and passes it on to the workers, which begin the process of turning the nectar into honey. Yes, the nectar is regurgitated from the bee’s honey crop, but it does not come from the stomach, and thus should not be confused with vomit.
More interesting than how a honey bee stores nectar, is how much nectar she can carry. The average bee can carry around 40 mg of nectar, even though she only weighs around 120 mg. The worker bees inside the colony, as long as they are walking and not flying, can carry up to 100 mg of nectar.
Once the honey collector, or forager, gets back to the colony with her load of nectar, she passes it to an awaiting worker bee, which again carries the nectar in her crop, adding even more enzymes.
To learn much more about how bees work and live, including how they make honey, see Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet , by Susan Brackney.
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