The 13th Floor

This Species of Bee Makes “Honey” From Rotting Flesh

Nature never ceases to provide amazing, fascinating, baffling and sometimes straight-up horrifying new questions to ponder. For example: what would honey made from a decaying corpse taste like?

Yes, there is such a thing… technically speaking, anyway. The material secreted by one species of bee wouldn’t be considered “honey” in the true sense, but for all intents and purposes, the secretion of the vulture bee (species Trigona necrophaga) is produced very much like that of garden-variety honeybees… the main difference is that these bees don’t subsist on the nectar of flowering plants. As its name suggests, the vulture bee eats the liquefying flesh of rotting animal carcasses.

Although the first Trigona species were classified in the late 18th century, the corpse-based diet of Trigona necrophaga wasn’t verified until 1982. Scientists observed these bees burrowing into the eye sockets of dead animals and “harvesting” rotted flesh, consuming and storing it in a specially-evolved internal pocket until they can deliver it to the hive and barf it back up. Worker bees then use their own unique digestive enzymes to break it down further into a honey-like substance – which is decay-resistant, so it can be stored and used to feed the hive population over long periods.

Now that you’re properly grossed out, let’s get back to that first question: can you actually eat “corpse honey” produced by vulture bees?

Image Credit: Dongseon Kim

Well, as badass as a corpse-honey sandwich might sound, there’s no record of this being tried yet. However, bee experts advise strongly against trying this – not because the honey might kill you (which it might), but because vulture bees store only enough of this material to sustain their hives, unlike common honeybees who produce far more than they need.