It is no secret that honey comes from honey bees, but are honey bees the only insects that produce and store honey? Honey bees belong to the Apis genus, and although honey bees are raised in all populated regions of the world, they are only truly native to Europe, Africa and Asia. There are seven Apis honey bees in the world, but the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is globally recognized as the premiere honey bee that produces the honey found on store shelves. Of course, other honey bee species produce honey, and other social insects, such as ants and wasps, also produce and store honey.
Honey that is produced by the western honey bee may be the only type of honey that most people are familiar with, but the honey produced by other insects is sometimes used for sugar extraction. In fact, many indigenous cultures still extract sugars from the honey produced by various insects. The United Nations only recognizes the honey produced by “honey bees” as a legitimate food source in the International Food Standards list. However, a whole 500 stingless bee species belonging to the Meliponini genus produce honey, and these bees are often used by farmers as efficient crop pollinators. The honey that these bees produce has a higher water content than typical honey, but their honey is, nevertheless, sold and consumed as a traditional food source in some regions of the world. Bumblebees also produce honey, but in very small amounts, as it is only consumed by the queen in order to maintain her energy levels. The Mexican honey wasp, along with many other paper wasp species, store excess nectar within their nests, and this form of honey is regarded as an important food source as well as a traditional form of medicine in some indigenous communities. The honey pot ant forages for honey, and it stores honey within its abdomen, which can swell to several times its normal size so that large amounts of honey can be carried back to its colony. The syrupy substance known as honeydew is produced by aphids and scale insects. Specialty honeydew is produced by a particular scale insect species that exists only within certain regions of the globe. This specialty honeydew, produced in Germany’s Black Forest region and New Zealand’s tropical forests, is sold to consumers all over the world.
Have you ever consumed a form of honey that was produced or collected by an insect other than a honey bee?