Vulture Bees: There Are Meat Eating Bees

We all have the general idea of how honey is made, right?  -Busy bees fly from flower to flower collecting nectar which is later turned into that magnificent golden thick liquid people use in everything from cosmetics to pharmaceuticals. 

But what if we told you that some honey wasn’t made from nectar at all?And that there are bees that make their honey from a completely different ingredient, and that ingredient is actually meat?

That’s right, though it might be hard for you to believe, carnivorous species bees do exist and can be found in nature! But don’t panic, these bees are unlikely to hunt you down. They prefer their meals to be dead on arrival.

You see, just as their name suggests, vulture bees eat ‘carrion’ also known as the decaying flesh of dead animals.  

Even though the whole concept might sound a bit icky, the vulture bees are not the only species that feed on decaying flesh. In fact, a whole range of animals and birds, including crows, coyotes, and even the cute little hedgehog include carrion in their diets.

So, are you ready to learn some more about meat-eating bees?  

Why haven’t I heard of vulture bees before?

If you are a bee enthusiast you might be wondering why you haven’t heard about these vulture bees before? Don’t worry you’re not alone. While a vulture bee’s diet definitely makes them stand out, many people, including bee lovers, have never heard of them. So what’s the deal?

Out of all the thousands of bee species in the world, there are only three types of vulture bee:

●  Trigona hypogea

●  Trigonanecrophaga

●  Trigona crassipes

The small group of stingless bee species is relatively new to the scientific world, as their unusual behavior was discovered only in 1982,  almost two centuries after the official classification of bees.   

Because of their late discovery, the vulture bees have been mostly overlooked by the scientific community. This in turn means there is not enough information available about the species.   

It is also important to consider the demand for information. Honey bees are incredibly popular and kept by hobbyists and professionals around the world. And all pollinating bees attract special attention due to the essential role they play in our ecosystem.

When you consider this, it’s easy to see why vulture bees are mostly ignored by both scientists and the general public. 

After all, they are neither kept in backyards nor do they play such an important role in nature, (though of course, every member of the animal kingdom is important in their own special way!).

Naturally, here at HoneybeeQ, we are fascinated by all kinds of bees. So here’s some basic knowledge  we’ve managed to uncover about these interesting creatures:

Where do vulture bees live and do they form hives?

Vulture bees live primarily in South and North America and just like honey bees, they live in hives.

These hives are similar to those of their vegetarian cousins in that they contain hierarchical colonies including:

●  A queen bee

●  Worker bees

●  Drones

●  And young bees that must be cared for by their hive mates

Just like other hive dwelling bee species, vulture bees sometimes find their hives overcrowded. When this happens, a new queen bee takes over the hive, while the existing monarch selects a group of followers and leaves the nest forming a swarm. 

This video has a bit of an overview of how vulture bees live

How do vulture bees make honey?

Even though they live in colonies just like honey bees, vulture bees’ method of food production is quite different. 

If you have ever had the dubious pleasure of witnessing maggots entering an animal’s carcass, you already have a good idea about how the vulture bee collects food.

Just like the maggot, vulture bees will usually enter a dead animal’s body through the eyes.

Once inside, the bees coat the meat with saliva before swallowing it and storing it in a special foraging stomach, ready to be regurgitated back at the hive (Yum!).

Now, you might be wondering: “How do bees chew meat?”.

And the answer is, they don’t really need to chew. Their special saliva quickly breaks down the meat, turning it into a gooey substance they can swallow. The bees do need to collect the meat and it’s much tougher to strip the meat from the bone than to collect pollen from an open flower.

But the bees do need to collect the meat. And it’s much tougher to strip the meat from the bone 

So, how do they strip meat from a carcass?

Vulture bees have developed sharp tooth-like points in their mouths that are used to rip and shred meat from a carcass, ready to coat it in their special saliva. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Vulture bees don’t work alone, as just like any hive dwelling bees these bumbling meat-eating insects share the location of the food source with the colony.

How do they let their hive mates know where to find food?

Well, like many of their pollen loving cousins, vulture bees use pheromones to signal that a food source has been found. Once a single bee has found a corpse, it doesn’t take long for their friends to arrive, completely covering the carcass with a swarm of busy little scavengers.

What happens back at the hive?

At the hive, worker bees process the regurgitated meat in much the same way as honey bees process pollen. This involves chewing the gooey meat and saliva mixture until it becomes a honey-like substance, which is then dried and stored in order to feed the hives young.

Can you be attacked and stung by vulture bees?

Vulture bees are part of the ‘Trigona’ family of bees meaning that they are stingless.

But don’t get too confident! Like most bees, vulture bees are unlikely to attack unless provoked. However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t defend themselves.

So, how do these stingless bees protect their hives? Well, members of the Trigona family are known to give a ‘painful and persistent bite’ when under attack.

Can you eat vulture bee honey?

Now that’s a good question! Obviously, honey made from meat isn’t good for vegetarians… but that aside, there is no evidence that vulture bee honey is toxic.

Unfortunately, we can’t find any evidence that it is safe either. As vulture bee honey isn’t farmed nor collected in the same way as the one made from nectar there is little data on its taste, texture, or whether it is in fact edible for humans.

 And that’s probably a good thing!

You see, not only is the idea of eating honey made from rotting meat a little off-putting for most pallets, but vulture bees need all of the honey that they make for themselves.

Unlike the domesticated honey bee, vulture bees don’t make a surplus amount of honey. Instead, they create just enough to sustain their hives.

So, if you are a particularly adventurous eater, you are out of luck for this one. But don’t worry, there are plenty of weird and wonderful flavors of honey out there that won’t harm the environment or your stomach. Why not try some Buckwheat honey or Black Seed honey instead?

OK, so we’ve established what vulture bees are, and how they make honey. Now it’s time for a quick recap:

Vulture Bees: The Recap:

Vulture bees are a relatively understudied type of bee who makes honey from meat, instead of flowers. These quirky insects live in hives, cannot sting, and use special tooth-like points to strip the meat from the carcasses of dead animals.

Whilst we don’t know whether vulture bee honey is toxic, it is best not to try to collect it. Especially as this could cause the bee colony to starve.

Phew, that was quite the ride! But we hope you enjoyed reading about these fabulously unusual creatures.

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