I always knew bees pooped but have really only researched photos of unhealthy bee poop – you know, the stuff you keep your eyes out for during hive inspections. I also was very aware they tend to defecate outside the hive on their “cleansing flights”, but it wasn’t until I left my bees in an observation hive for a full day and a half before letting them out that I realized how seriously they take this colony rule.
Let me start by disclosing that the bees had plenty of air, food, and were covered up so they weren’t in the light – I’m not a monster.
I had packed up a recently split hive since they were small and I could fit almost all the bees into the small observation hive. When it was time to put them back in their nuc, I decided to sit down and slowly move the bees and enjoy the process (I really love to feel the bees fan, buzz, and walk all over my hands). So, I put on my garden veil rather than my jacket, lit the smoker to help herd stragglers to their box afterwards, and unbolted their security/travel screws. The bees came pouring out and I felt small “rain drops” on my arms. I noticed some yellow, sticky, goop on my arms and thought – “yep, that’s bee poo, not rain”. They were not agitated or mad, they just really had to “go”.
Since I hadn’t spent a lot of time exploring healthy bee poo habits, I decided now was the time, here’s what I have learned in my exploration of this unexpected yellow mess.
Here’s a basic breakdown of a bee’s digestive system: When the bee digests nectar, it passes through the proventriculus (a screen like organ) to the ventriculus (the “true” stomach of the honey bee). The proventriculus acts as a siphon to sift out pollen grains found in all natural nectar sources. This filtering allows for the bees to consume a diet of mostly pollen while saving the nectar for honey store production. Honey bees can fill their abdomen with half their body weight in nectar every flight in their “crop” or as I like to call it, their “honey tummy”, taking up to 2/3 of their abdominal cavity. The digestive system of the honey bee is sifting and sorting through the nectar to feed the bee, and add enzymes to aid in digestion of the nectar for storage in the honey cells.