Good shit! Bees make dark, smoky honey from the droppings of the spotted lanternfly.

While spotted lanternflies are invasive and dangerous to trees and agriculture, they can still serve a purpose.

Honey bees figured this out. In late summer, when nectar is scarce, they find a suitable substitute in the sweet, sugary droppings of adult lanternflies, which the bees bring back to the hive.

The result is a dark, smoky honey. Some find it disgusting. Others see “lantern fly honey” as a niche market with potential.

“People really want the weird stuff,” said Erik Diemer, co-owner of Pocono Apiaries, which markets a chili-infused Spotted Lanternfly Hot Honey.

The bottle, with a label depicting a lantern and flames, is sold in a few locations in the Lehigh Valley and Poconos. Diemer said it’s been hard to keep on the shelves.

No one seems to know how many other beekeepers are trying to market similar products, although there are at least a few. Experts agree it’s a regional curiosity developed in eastern Pennsylvania and is likely to spread like lanternflies.

All of this, of course, raises some questions.

What does lantern fly honey taste like?

This is absolutely not grocery store honey. It has a deep amber or brown color and a smoky aroma, not-so-sweet taste, and lingering aftertaste.

“I can’t just bottle lanternfly honey and sell it as regular honey because people will think it tastes like it was lit,” Diemer said. He suggests using Spotted Lanternfly Hot Honey by Pocono Apiaries on pizza, wings, cornbread, grilled dishes or, his personal favorite, in a warming winter tea.

Not everyone is a fan.

“To me it smells smoky, a bit bitter and has a bad aftertaste. Some people really love it!” said Robyn Underwood, a beekeeping expert at PennState Extension, who took calls in 2019 from beekeepers stunned by the strange, unexpected honey.

Is it really made out of lantern fly poop?

All information is: Yes.

Bee honey changes from season to season depending on what plants and nectar sources are available. When beekeepers started finding strange things in the fall, the unusual honey was analyzed and believed to be from a sugary lanternfly excretion called “honeydew.”

Diemer said he notices it in late summer, when plants naturally produce less nectar and bees are looking for any sweets they can find, like your picnic. But this is also the time when adult spotted lanternflies emerge and start feasting on tree sap and vines, leaving their “honeydew” everywhere. And this type of honey only seems to be found in spots with spotted lanternflies.

Spotted Lanternflies

Spotted lanternflies on a tree in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The invasive species has spread from Pennsylvania to 13 other states.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

“The time of year it’s produced by bees, the locations it’s found, and the correlation with lanternfly populations all point to them being the source,” said Underwood, whose own bees produce the stuff in Berks County , the “ground zero for the invasion of the spotted lanternfly.”

Underwood is still looking for answers about the honeydew that accounts for the dark color or smoky flavor.

It sounds disgusting.

Not really a question, but yes, it does. However, consuming honey of any kind requires, to some extent, to put aside knowledge of where it comes from.

Basically, bees eat nectar (“the seeds of plants,” as Diemer bluntly put it), then vomit it up again and seal it in the honeycomb with their own secretion. In this case, the nectar is replaced with lanternfly droppings. It undermines expectations of grocery store honey, which Diemer says is itself a misrepresentation of natural honey, which can come out a little different each time.

“Some people were a little disgusted,” Diemer said of the reactions to the lanternfly honey. “These people don’t know what honey is to begin with. Honey itself is a raw product.”

Spotted lanternfly nymphs

A group of late instar spotted lanternfly nymphs gather on a grapevine branch in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Lanternflies suck the sap from trees and vines.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Is it safe?

Yes. Tests show that pesticides used to control lanternflies are rarely found in honey or at “extremely low levels,” Underwood said.

Who sells this stuff?

No one seems to be tracking who is marketing lanternfly honey, but there are at least a few we’ve been able to find. In a PennState Extension article last fall, Underwood said that bakeries use this type of honey and that “smart marketing can make this a popular novelty.”

Philadelphia Bee Co. sells DoomBloom, which appears to be the Pennsylvania original.

Diemer said Pocono Apiaries’ Spotted Lanternfly Hot Honey will be sold when available at the Easton Public Market, Pocono Soap in Stroudsburg, Apple Ridge Farms in Kunkletown and Fourth Street Bistro in Mount Pocono.

Underwood, though she has no taste for it herself, said she sells hers at PennState Creamery.

Others may explore the option. The American Honey Tasting Society said it will review some “dark honey” reports with the University of Pittsburgh over the next few months.

Even beekeepers who don’t market the honey can save money by feeding their bees with it over the winter.

Spotted Lanternflies

Spotted lanternflies climb a vine in Bethlehem. Honeybees can use the sweet “honeydew” excretions of lanternflies to create a unique honey.Timothy Kovach | file photo

Should we crush spotted lanternflies anyway?

Yes. A surprising use does not absolve the invasive species of its sins.

Spotted lanternflies have spread to at least 13 other states, threatening industries like grapes, orchards and logging, according to the Pennsylvania US Department of Agriculture. But it’s still interesting that nature found a way to harness an unexpected resource in sweet, sweet lanternfly poop.

“Some beekeepers try to turn a bad situation into a good one,” said Mike Bodamer of the Lehigh Valley Beekeeper Association. “Ideally, I think beekeepers would rather eliminate the problem, but it looks like they’re here to stay.”

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Steve Novak can be reached at [email protected].