Honeydew (secretion)

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An aphid produces honeydew for an ant in an example of mutualistic symbiosis. Ant Receives Honeydew from Aphid.jpg
An aphid produces honeydew for an ant in an example of mutualistic symbiosis.
Honeydew drops on leaves Honeydew on a leaf (cropped).jpg
Honeydew drops on leaves

Honeydew is a sugar-rich sticky liquid, secreted by aphids and some scale insects as they feed on plant sap. When their mouthpart penetrates the phloem, the sugary, high-pressure liquid is forced out of the anus of the aphid. Honeydew is particularly common as a secretion in hemipteran insects and is often the basis for trophobiosis. [1] Some caterpillars of Lycaenidae butterflies and some moths also produce honeydew. [2]


Honeydew producing insects, like cicadas, pierce phloem ducts to access the sugar rich sap. The sap continues to bleed after the insects have moved on, leaving a white sugar crust called manna. [3] Ants may collect, or "milk", honeydew directly from aphids and other honeydew producers, which benefit from their presence due to their driving away predators such as lady beetles or parasitic wasps—see Crematogaster peringueyi . Animals and plants in a mutually symbiotic arrangement with ants are called Myrmecophiles.

In Madagascar, some gecko species in the genera Phelsuma and Lygodactylus are known to approach flatid plant-hoppers on tree-trunks from below and induce them to excrete honeydew by head nodding behaviour. The plant-hopper then raises its abdomen and excretes a drop of honeydew almost right onto the snout of the gecko. [4]

Honeydew can cause sooty mold—a bane of gardeners—on many ornamental plants. It also contaminates vehicles parked beneath trees, and can then be difficult to remove from glass and bodywork. Honeydew is also secreted by certain fungi, particularly ergot. [5] Honeydew is collected by certain species of birds, mosquitoes, [6] [7] wasps, stingless bees [8] and honey bees, which process it into a dark, strong honey (honeydew honey). This is highly prized in parts of Europe and Asia for its reputed medicinal value. Parachartergus fraternus , a eusocial wasp species, collects honeydew to feed to their growing larvae. [9] Recent research has also documented the use of honeydew by over 40 species of wild, native, mostly solitary bees in California. [10]

Religion and mythology

In Norse mythology, dew falls from the ash tree Yggdrasil to the earth, and according to the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning , "this is what people call honeydew and from it bees feed." [11]

In Greek mythology, méli, or "honey", drips from the Manna–ash, (Fraxinus ornus), with which the Meliae , or "ash tree nymphs", nursed the infant god Zeus on the island of Crete, [12] (as in the Hymn to Zeus by Callimachus).[ citation needed ]

Honey-dew is referenced in the last lines of Samuel Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan , perhaps because of its mythological connotations:

And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

In the Hebrew Bible, while the Israelites are wandering through the desert after the Exodus, they are miraculously provided with a substance, manna, that is sometimes associated with honeydew. [13] Exodus 16:31 provides a description: "it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey."[ citation needed ]

Nectar producing trees

Honeydew puddle under a tree Honeydew under the tree.jpeg
Honeydew puddle under a tree


In eucalypt forests, production of both the honeydew nectar and manna tends to increase in spring and autumn. Eucalyptus can produce even more manna than honeydew nectar. The sugar glider possum eats both, licking the nectar from branches. Other species attracted to the nectar include the feathertail glider, brush-tailed phascogale, and brown antechinus. Most trees are not able to produce sap if the phloem duct becomes damaged by mechanical processes. [3]


The Ommatissus lybicus is attracted to certain cultivars of the date palm tree. The honeydew producing insects preferred the Medjhool variety to the Deglet Noor in Israel, where they have been observed in the Arava Valley. Very dense insect populations may have some adverse effects. Different methods of controlling the insects, including natural and chemical, have been studied. [14]


Two scale insects in the Sinai, Trabutina mannipara and Najacoccus serpentinus feed on Tamarisk trees. They secrete a sugary nectar that turns white when it hardens, resembling certain whitish flakes described in the Hebrew scriptures. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Honey Sweet food made by bees mostly using nectar from flowers

Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance made by honey bees and some other bees. Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants or from secretions of other insects, by regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation. Honey bees store honey in wax structures called honeycombs, whereas stingless bees store honey in pots made of wax and resin. The variety of honey produced by honey bees is the best-known, due to its worldwide commercial production and human consumption. Honey is collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees, a practice known as beekeeping or apiculture.

Aphid Superfamily of insects

Aphids are small sap-sucking insects and members of the superfamily Aphidoidea. Common names include greenfly and blackfly, although individuals within a species can vary widely in color. The group includes the fluffy white woolly aphids. A typical life cycle involves flightless females giving live birth to female nymphs—who may also be already pregnant, an adaptation scientists call telescopic development—without the involvement of males. Maturing rapidly, females breed profusely so that the number of these insects multiplies quickly. Winged females may develop later in the season, allowing the insects to colonize new plants. In temperate regions, a phase of sexual reproduction occurs in the autumn, with the insects often overwintering as eggs.

Hemiptera Order of insects often called bugs

Hemiptera is an order of insects, commonly called true bugs, comprising over 80,000 species within groups such as the cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, bed bugs, and shield bugs. They range in size from 1 mm (0.04 in) to around 15 cm (6 in), and share a common arrangement of sucking mouthparts. The name "true bugs" is often limited to the suborder Heteroptera. Many insects commonly known as "bugs", especially in American English, belong to other orders; for example, the lovebug is a fly and the May bug and ladybug are beetles.

Yellow crazy ant Species of ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes)

The yellow crazy ant(Anoplolepis gracilipes) is a species of ant, thought to have originated in West Africa, that has been accidentally introduced to numerous places in the world's tropics.

Scale insect Superfamily of insects

Scale insects are small insects of the order Hemiptera, suborder Sternorrhyncha. Of dramatically variable appearance and extreme sexual dimorphism, they comprise the infraorder Coccomorpha which is considered a more convenient grouping than the superfamily Coccoidea due to taxonomic uncertainties. Adult females typically have soft bodies and no limbs, and are concealed underneath domed scales, extruding quantities of wax for protection. Some species are hermaphroditic, with a combined ovotestis instead of separate ovaries and testes. Males, in the species where they occur, have legs and sometimes wings, and resemble small flies. Scale insects are herbivores, piercing plant tissues with their mouthparts and remaining in one place, feeding on sap. The excess fluid they imbibe is secreted as honeydew on which sooty mold tends to grow. The insects often have a mutualistic relationship with ants, which feed on the honeydew and protect them from predators. There are about 8,000 described species.

Sap Fluid transported in xylem cells or phloem sieve tube elements of a plant

Sap is a fluid transported in xylem cells or phloem sieve tube elements of a plant. These cells transport water and nutrients throughout the plant.

Aphididae Family of true bugs

The Aphididae are a very large insect family in the aphid superfamily (Aphidoidea), of the order Hemiptera. These insects suck the sap from plant leaves. Several thousand species are placed in this family, many of which are considered plant/crop pests. They are the family of insects containing most plant virus vectors with the green peach aphid being one of the most prevalent and indiscriminate carriers.

Melezitose Chemical compound

Melezitose, also spelled melicitose, is a nonreducing trisaccharide sugar that is produced by many plant sap eating insects, including aphids such as Cinara pilicornis, by an enzyme reaction. This is beneficial to the insects, as it reduces the stress of osmosis by reducing their own water potential. The melezitose is part of the honeydew which acts as an attractant for ants and also as a food for bees. This is useful to the aphids as they have a symbiotic relationship with ants. Melezitose can be partially hydrolyzed to glucose and turanose the latter of which is an isomer of sucrose.

Treehopper Family of insects

Treehoppers and thorn bugs are members of the family Membracidae, a group of insects related to the cicadas and the leafhoppers. About 3,200 species of treehoppers in over 400 genera are known. They are found on all continents except Antarctica; only five species are known from Europe. Individual treehoppers usually live for only a few months.

Nectar Sugar-rich liquid produced by many flowering plants, that attracts pollinators and insects

Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants in glands called nectaries or nectarines, either within the flowers with which it attracts pollinating animals, or by extrafloral nectaries, which provide a nutrient source to animal mutualists, which in turn provide herbivore protection. Common nectar-consuming pollinators include mosquitoes, hoverflies, wasps, bees, butterflies and moths, hummingbirds, honeyeaters and bats. Nectar plays a crucial role in the foraging economics and evolution of nectar-eating species; for example, nectar foraging behavior is largely responsible for the divergent evolution of the African honey bee, A. m. scutellata and the western honey bee.


In zoology, a nectarivore is an animal which derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants.


Myrmecophily is the term applied to positive interspecies associations between ants and a variety of other organisms, such as plants, other arthropods, and fungi. Myrmecophily refers to mutualistic associations with ants, though in its more general use, the term may also refer to commensal or even parasitic interactions.

Cinara cupressi, the cypress aphid, is a brownish soft-bodied aphid. It sucks sap from twigs of conifers, and can cause damage to the tree, ranging from discoloring of the affected twig to the death of the tree. This insect appears to have originated in the Middle East and has been increasing its range and is considered to be an invasive species in Africa and Europe. It has been included in the List of the world's 100 worst invasive species.

<i>Parachartergus apicalis</i> Species of wasp

Parachartergus apicalis is a species of wasp in the Polistinae subfamily, found in the Neotropics. It was first described by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1804. In Honduras, they are known as alas blancas, which translates into English as "white wings".

Black bean aphid Species of true bug

The black bean aphid is a small black insect in the genus Aphis, with a broad, soft body, a member of the order Hemiptera. Other common names include blackfly, bean aphid, and beet leaf aphid. In the warmer months of the year, it is found in large numbers on the undersides of leaves and on the growing tips of host plants, including various agricultural crops and many wild and ornamental plants. Both winged and wingless forms exist, and at this time of year, they are all females. They suck sap from stems and leaves and cause distortion of the shoots, stunted plants, reduced yield, and spoiled crops. This aphid also acts as a vector for viruses that cause plant disease, and the honeydew it secretes may encourage the growth of sooty mould. It breeds profusely by live birth, but its numbers are kept in check, especially in the later part of the summer, by various predatory and parasitic insects. Ants feed on the honeydew it produces, and take active steps to remove the aphid's enemies. It is a widely distributed pest of agricultural crops and can be controlled by chemical or biological means. In the autumn, winged forms move to different host plants, where both males and females are produced. These mate and the females lay eggs which overwinter.

<i>Acyrthosiphon pisum</i> Species of true bug

Acyrthosiphon pisum, commonly known as the pea aphid, is a sap-sucking insect in the family Aphididae. It feeds on several species of legumes worldwide, including forage crops, such as pea, clover, alfalfa, and broad bean, and ranks among the aphid species of major agronomical importance. The pea aphid is a model organism for biological study whose genome has been sequenced and annotated.

<i>Caryocar brasiliense</i> Species of tree

Caryocar brasiliense, known as pequi or "souari nut", like its congeners, is an edible fruit popular in some areas of Brazil, especially in Centerwestern Brazil.

<i>Eriosoma lanigerum</i> Species of true bug

Eriosoma lanigerum, the woolly apple aphid, woolly aphid or American blight, is an aphid in the superfamily Aphidoidea in the order Hemiptera. It is a true bug and sucks sap from plants.


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