Like other bees: They live in hives, they fly around to find food, they produce honey to feed their young. But they make the honey from rotten meat.
Why do vulture bees eat rotten meat?
Scientists believe that vulture bees resorted to eating meat off of carcasses, because the competition for food in the habitat is high.
How do they make the honey?
The vulture bee eats meat off a carcass and store the food pulp in its crop, a special stomach-like structure to store food. Back in the hive, it vomits the meat into the mouth of a worker bee, who processes it. The worker bee will then secret a protein rich substance that resembles honey.
More facts about vulture bees.
The stingless insects live in the jungle of South- and Central America. They are unable to collect pollen and have thus developed a taste for rotten flesh. They do not attack living beings, the only go for carrion.
How can the insects process meat?
First of all, they have an extra tooth on their lower jar which helps to cut the meat out of a carcass.
Second of all, they have help. Help from the microbes that live in their gut. These microbes help them to digest the protein and to produce antibiotics. These antibiotics fight of unbeneficial microbes, such as the ones that grow on rotting meat. These are the same microbes that prevent hyena and vultures (the birds) from getting sick after consuming decaying carcasses.
What does Vulture bee honey look like?
Vulture bee honey is clear and has a light brown color. The taste is reported to be slightly sweet. It is much thicker than honey made from pollen and nectar. Theoretically humans can eat it too. Though, knowing where it comes from probably makes it less appealing than conventional honey.
- CAMARGO, J. M., & ROUBIK, D. W. (1991). Systematics and bionomics of the apoid obligate necrophages: the Trigona hypogea group (Hymenoptera: Apidae; Meliponinae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 44(1), 13-39.
- Figueroa, L. L., Maccaro, J. J., Krichilsky, E., Yanega, D., & McFrederick, Q. S. (2021). Why Did the Bee Eat the Chicken? Symbiont Gain, Loss, and Retention in the Vulture Bee Microbiome. Mbio, 12(6), e02317-21.