Do Wasps Make Honey?

Seventeen species of wasps make honey

Bees and wasps may be mistaken for each other due to their body shape and coloring, but the honeybee is recognized as the main honey producer. The honeybee zips between flowers and gathers nectar, transforming it into honey. These bees consume the honey for their energy source. On the other hand, the wasp’s aerodynamic body allows it to hunt insects for food. It can be found landing on sugary substances, like spilled soda, to fulfill its daily energy requirements. But are there any wasps that make honey and use it for food?

A Mexican honey wasp Brachygastra mellifica. Attribution: University of Texas at Austin
A Mexican honey wasp Brachygastra mellifica. Attribution: University of Texas at Austin, Credit: Wikimedia/Insects Unlocked
An Andrena sp. bee with a full load of pollen on a field marigold Calendula arvensis flower
An Andrena sp. bee with a full load of pollen on a field marigold Calendula arvensis flower, Credit: Wikimedia/Alvesgaspar

Table of Contents

Can a wasp make honey like a bee?

Yes, there are seventeen species of wasps that can make honey. However, there are thousands of wasp species, and most don’t make it. Instead, they use nectar as one energy source. Wasps consume nectar, insects, and the sweet substance left by aphids, called honeydew. Wasps enjoy sugary fruits too. A common wasp, the yellow jacket, does not make honey, as it does not survive winter conditions. On the other hand, honeybees use honey stored in their hive to survive during the harsh winter months.

How does a honeybee make honey?

First, the honeybee locates flowers that produce nectar using its antennae. The bee uses its proboscis, a hollow tube, to draw the sweet nectar into a special stomach called the honey stomach, or the crop. When its crop is full, it speeds back to its hive.

 

Next, the nectar must be processed into honey by worker bees. Amazingly, one bee passes the nectar into the next bee’s mouth by vomiting it out. The worker bee will process the nectar by adding a special enzyme that changes the complex sugar (sucrose) into simple sugars (glucose and fructose). The process is repeated over and over until the honey is ready, placed into a honeycomb, and covered in beeswax.

How does a wasp make honey?

The Mexican honey wasp (Brachygastra mellifica) is one wasp that produces honey. It lives in North and South America and builds a large papery next in trees and shrubs. The wasp lands on a flower and sucks the nectar up through its proboscis. The wasp regurgitates the nectar until it has been converted into honey. The honey is deposited in the nest, but it is not covered with beeswax. The amount of honey that the Mexican honey wasp makes is minimal compared to a honeybee. However, it is edible by humans and tastes like maple syrup. When analyzed, the honey contained material from sunflowers and mesquite flowers, as well as the honeydew from aphids.

 

Another honey-producing wasp is the black paper wasp (Brachygastra lecheguana). It’s carnivorous and feeds on butterflies and beetle larvae. The black paper wasps build a paper nest and store their honey in it for several years. They’re found living primarily in Central America and some southern states in the USA.

 

Next time you see a wasp, remember it’s probably getting its energy by nibbling on insect larvae. But keep in mind, a few extraordinary wasp species can make their own honey.

Glossary

Nectar: A sugary fluid secreted by plants, especially within flowers, to encourage pollination by insects and other animals. It is collected by bees to make into honey.

 

Aphid: A minute bug that feeds by sucking sap from plants.

 

Antennae: A pair of slender, movable, segmented sensory organs on the head of insects.

 

Proboscis: Tubular mouthparts used for feeding and sucking.

 

Crop: A pouch-like part of the digestive system of some animals, where food is partially digested and stored for regurgitation.

 

Regurgitate: To bring food up from the stomach into the mouth.

 

Enzyme: A protein that acts as a catalyst within living cells. Catalysts increase the rate at which chemical reactions occur without being consumed or permanently altered themselves.

 

Carnivorous: An adjective used to describe an animal that eats meat as their main energy source.

Readability: 65.3

 

Flesch Kincaid Reading Level: 7.5

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