Can you eat wasp honey?


Written as a collaboration effort between EntoHub.com and pH7.


Although most wasps are carnivores and even steal honey from honey bees, the production

of honey occurs in a few species. Wasp honey is similar to that of honey bees- it contains

amino acids, sugars and other nutrients. Most wasps obtain these nutrients by eating other

insects which may be a reason why most species don’t need to rely on honey. The

composition of social wasp honey has been scientifically described to a degree:

The honey is used by adult wasps as a food source during drier, cooler seasons and is also

used to feed larvae throughout the year. Oddly enough for wasps, honey and pollen

comprise the diet of the larvae. The sugars provide the larvae with energy to grow and the

amino acids act as building blocks for larvae to build proteins, which are then used to build

cells and tissues.

Honey wasp nests in south Texas are easy to see in suburban environments when trees

shed their leaves for the winter:


A Mexian Honey Wasp Net (Source: RoseLee Photobucket)

A Texas Entomology resource suggests mature nests are egg-shaped and large, often

around 40-50 centimeters but nests as long as three feet have been found. “When filled with

honey, they may weigh several kilograms. There are usually only a few large combs (less

than 10 but as many as 20) arranged concentrically within the thin envelope. The entrance is

located toward the lower end.

So if wasp honey exists, is there anyone eating it?

The answer is yes, in particular the honey of wasps in the genus Brachygastra. According to

Texas Entomology, “The nectar-storing habits of wasps have been perfected by

Brachygastra. Their nests contain large stores of a very palatable honey that is widely

exploited by humans” (Bequaert, 1993).

12 species of Brachygastra have been described so far, with Brachygastra lecheguana

(Latreille, 1824) and Brachygastra mellifica (Say, 1837) being the best known. These

species range from South Texas to Northern Argentina .

The honey from the Mexican honey wasp, Brachygastra mellifica is eaten in countries such

as Mexico and Brazil, along with larvae and adult insects themselves. The entire comb is

eaten with the larvae still in it and it is considered a delicacy. The comb is harvested from

hives by “wasp farmers” who transport wild hives to a place they can be protected. Although

the hive gets destroyed when the comb is harvested, the wasps build a new hive which is

harvested again the next season.

The honey of Polybia occidentalis is also consumed in Mexico. But not all wasp honey is fit

for consumption.

The foraging behaviour of many wasp species is still being researched and in 1999, a

publication in a Veterinary and Human Toxicology journal reports fifteen cases of atropine

poisoning in humans after wasp honey consumption. Atropine is a compound that is used as

a medication and atropine poisoning occurs as a result of overdosing. The presence of

atropine in the honey in this incident may have been related to poisonous Datura plants

which the wasps likely visited for pollen to make honey. Two people died from heat stroke

related to atropine poisoning.

Like honey bees, honey wasps use pollen from different flora in the area of their nest. Even

the pollen from plants that are poisonous to humans can be used to make honey, but

evidence that the honey causes ill effects on its own, regardless of the plant source, is

lacking.

You probably won’t get sick from eating wasp honey as long as it exclusively comes from safe plants. For anyone that is actually looking to try some, it’s unlikely that you’ll get ahold of wasp honey unless you find a honey wasp hive and take it yourself (not recommended) - at that point it’s safe to say that it’s a better idea to stick to eating honey from honey bees.

#EntoHub #ShayanFarahani #Wasps #Honey

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