Just like you and me and everything in between: bees poo too. When bees relieve themselves it is called a cleansing flight. When the winter months extend the length of time bees spend in the hive (or you are releasing a package of bees shipped from overseas), cleansing flight days can cause your bee yard to seemingly rain the poor bees defecate. This can cause your nice white bee suit to become a Jackson Pollock. This post will try to answer everything you ever wanted to know about bee poop!
The way their insides work
Honey bees do a great many things, but one of the more interesting facts about honey bees is that they gather nectar by swallowing it and storing it in their honey crop (a ‘balloon’ type structure found below their esophagus) for transport and then they can do two things with it: They can for uses within the hive OR they can digest parts of it to fuel their activities. Both processes are fascinating but we are going to focus on the latter for our poopy purposes.
When the bee digests the nectar, it must pass through the proventriculus (a screen like organ) to the ventriculus (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 from 20-40mg of nectar every flight in their crop, taking up to 2/3 of their abdominal cavity ( a bees weight is but 80mg!). All the while the honey bee is sifting and sorting through the nectar to feed itself and aid in digestion of the nectar for storage in the honey cells (which is known in better circles called ‘magic’)
What their poop is made of?
So, if a bee is eating only the pollen, then is their poop just undigested pollen? To put it scientifically: kinda. The poop contents are mostly undigested pollen husks, pollen fat globules, and the cellular waste of the ventruculus (epithelia). If you are artificially feeding your bees pollen in the fall and spring months, the bee defecates will have other ingredients as many times the pollen patties include an artificial protein. It is thought that feeding pollen patties can stimulate brood production earlier in the year as it tricks the queen in to thinking that the pollen is coming from nature. There aren’t any studies to prove that but it is often believed that the heat from the fermenting patties can encourage brood production as the hive temperature increases during those shoulder seasons. Great images of intestines of honey bees here!
Poop indicative of hive health?
What is good poop and what is bad poop? Reading poop stains like tea leaves in a cup will have your loved ones worried , but hey, you’re not alone! You should feel elation when the cleansing days come to your doorstep: the bees sure do! So what should good poo look like and what should sad poo look like. Well, in general the rule is the less liquidy it is, the better. Issues with nosema. and or dysentery (bee diarrhea) look very similar. If you have stringy poo, or blobs of pooy spatter, you’re probably just fine. Things to keep in mind when seeing poo that looks like someone sprayed your winter wraps with a wet paint brush:
– When was the last time the bees had a chance to cleanse? What has the weather been like in the past few weeks?
– How much afternoon sun is your hive getting? Bees won’t break cluster to fly en masse unless the hive warms up to let them do so. A shaded hive location can decrease the numbers in which your bees go out to relieve themselves, therefore causing your bees to have fantastic releasing experiences when they do finally get out and about.
– Do you have nosema.? Well, the only REAL way to know is to send in samples to your local bee lab (Canada lab). Many people assume that they have nosema and treat for it prophylactically. Read this post about nosema from a researchers POV. We all know that general and unsubstantiated use of antibiotics in humans has led to resistance, and the same goes for honey bees. Fumagilin-B is no different, and resistance is FUTILE….ehm….eventual I mean. So know what you have before you jump to conclusions. Your bees may have been bunged up and eventually exploded with poos and died and not had any gut-infections.
So, in the warm days of winter, go out in to your bee yard, wear your newly washed bee suit, and pleasure in the experience of being rained on, and show your family and friends the different colours and textures of poop that you have collected! It will creep them out and keep you from going REALLY crazy in the long non-beekeeping months of our prairie winters.
How you can learn more?
Apiaries and Bees for Communities offers outstanding educational experiences to inform and inspire acts of pollinator stewardship. We are dedicated to the resilient management of honey bees and pollinator guardianship. We offer exceptional programming to rekindle your childlike wonder with the natural world. Our programming, key note speaking and beehive partnerships endeavour to Build the Hive Mentality within communities across Canada.