Honeybees Have Two Stomachs

by Katy - Bee Missionary January 12, 2022

Honeybees Have Two Stomachs

Few people know that a honeybee has two stomachs.

One stomach is a transport chamber for nectar and water that the worker bee collects while out foraging. She wants to bring these home to the hive for processing in the most pristine condition possible. Hence, she has a stomach that acts as a chamber for carrying nectar and water. At least one source reports that it would take a single bee collecting nectar from over 1,000 flowers just to fill the special expandable tummy up. This pouch-like stomach is considered a pre-digestive holding place in the digestive tract.

The honeybee collects nectar, which is a sugary watery liquid that flowers produce. The bee sucks it out using a long straw-like tongue called a proboscis and the liquid goes straight down into this special honey tummy in the foregut, which is called a crop. Once the bee has a full load of nectar in that extra stomach, she will fly home to the hive with her bounty. This is a big part of how bees make honey.

This unrelated 2:21-minute video by Allyson W might not be for you if you don’t like looking at dissection. But it is very educational, as it literally shows a dead honeybee’s honey stomach:

 

 

According to a person who has dissected bees and studied this subject at length, the honey stomach can hold up to 100 mg of nectar even though the bee usually only collects 20-40 mg. As a frame of reference, collecting one pound of nectar requires 12,000 to 24,000 foraging trips outside the hive. You can see some dissection photos and scientific results here

The other stomach is used to digest the food a bee eats and is a totally separate organ, so the nectar and water collected for use at the hive never contacts the bee’s food.

How does the bee get the nectar or water out of its crop? The nectar is regurgitated by the foraging bee into the mouth or crop of a processor bee that is waiting at or near the hive’s entrance. Sometimes honey is described incorrectly as coming from ‘bee vomit.’ Now you know why this is inaccurate.

After the forager has taken off again for another foraging trip, the processor bee then takes the nectar and regurgitates it into a hexagonal honeycomb cell where it will be left to ripen once the cell is full. 

The processor bee adds invertase, an enzyme, each time the nectar is regurgitated, and it takes many loads of nectar to fill a honeycomb cell. The nectar is mainly sucrose and water, and invertase breaks the sucrose down into two simple sugars: fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (blood sugar).

The nectar goes through a process where honeybees flap their wings over the nectar to dry it out to remove excess moisture. In this way, worker bees turn the nectar that is stored in the honeycomb cells into honey. 

 

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Katy - Bee Missionary
Katy - Bee Missionary

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