Did you know that honey bees have noses? Well they do. At least they have structures that function much like our noses. The study of bee anatomy gives us a look into the form and function of the parts of a bee.
Honey bees have body parts like all living things. The study of the parts of a bee is called “bee anatomy”. The bee body is a complex arrangement of parts. All of the parts work together to make it possible for the bees to fly, forage, defend and do all the things bees do.
Understanding the form and function of the bee body is very interesting. It allows us to create a better understanding of bee life. Knowing more about bees, allows us to be better caretakers of the bees.
A good working knowledge of bee anatomy is especially helpful for new beekeepers. It helps you better understand some of the bee’s reactions.
A Honey Bee is an Insect
Yes, honey bees are insects. And like all insects, they have 3 major body sections. These are the head, the thorax and the abdomen. Each section has a primary focus that contributes to the overall function of the bee body.
Bee Anatomy – The Head
Have you ever seen a macro shot of the head of a bee? In fact, it looks rather scary.
The head of the honey bee is a multi-sensory powerhouse. It gathers information about every aspect of life outside the body of the bee.
Structures located on the head make it possible for the bee to maneuver through the environment. This is necessary in order to find and gather food.
On the head of the honey bee we have several important structures: eyes, antenna, mouth parts and sensory hairs.
How Many Eyes do Bees Have?
Honey bees have 5 eyes. In fact, they have 2 different kinds of eyes. Each type communicates visual perception in different ways.
Two large compound eyes take up a large area on the face. Each eye of a worker bee is made up of about 6900 hexagonal facets.
The eyes of a drone bee or male bee are even more powerful. They have to be able to see virgin queens in flight!
The bee eye design is well suited to noticing movement. The large compound eyes are also covered with hair. Yep, bees have furry eyeballs! The hairs help the bees navigate.
Honey bee sight is actually quite remarkable. Bee see differently than humans. In addition to seeing colors, bees can see UV light. This ability helps them find nectar rich flowers that bees love.
Near the top of the head, you will find 3 small eyes located close together. These are called ocelli. Not used for sight, ocelli are light sensors.
They help the honey bee navigate and know when its time to return to the hive. Even though they are not directly associated with vision, they are very important to foraging worker bees.
Bee Antenna or Bee Nose
If bees had a nose – it would be the antenna. Seriously, the antenna are the parts of bee anatomy that sense smells. The 2 antennae can act independently. This helps the flying bee locate sweet smelling nectar in different directions.
One special structure located on the bee antenna is the Johnston’s organs. They are able to detect airflow and this is used to measure how fast the bee is flying – and how far.
We know the antenna is important to bee flight because we see bees clean them before taking off to collect pollen or nectar.
Bee Proboscis or Bee Tongue
Located in the head region, the proboscis functions as the tongue of the honey bee. The proboscis is actually composed of 3 mouth parts that come together to function like a straw.
The length of the proboscis determines from which flowers the bee can harvest nectar. Flowers with a long throat may be too deep for the bee to reach inside.
Bee Anatomy – The Thorax
The middle section of the honey bee is the thorax. It consists of three segments. The thorax is responsible for motion.
Containing 3 pair of legs ( total of 6 ) and 2 pair of wings (total of 4) , walking, flying and moving in general is made possible by the structure of the thorax.
Bee wings make flight possible. However, the wings of a honey bee do other tasks also.
A honey bee has 4 wings ( 2 pair on each side of the thorax). The front wings are larger than the back wings.
Small sets of hooks called “hamuli” enable the front and back wings to hook together and beat in unison. This is what makes a flying bee possible.
In addition to flying, bee wings help the colony in other ways. Worker bees help contact temperatures inside the hive using their wings. Fanning near the entrance or within the hive encourages the movement of air.
This helps keep the temperature in the brood region at the proper temperature and humidity for baby bees to develop.
Honey bees have 6 legs. Three legs on each side of the thorax allow the bee to be mobile. Bee legs are not just for locomotion.
The structure of the legs makes them valuable when grooming. After gathering pollen, you will often see a bee stop and use her legs to clean her antenna before taking flight.
She also uses comb-like structures on the legs to clean pollen off her hairy body. And yes, bees do have knees!
Workers bees have a special structure on their hind legs. Long sharp bristly hairs are used for carrying pollen (or propolis) back to the hive. We call these pollen baskets.
Only the worker bees have pollen baskets. Drones (or male bees) and Queen bees don’t need pollen baskets because they do not forage for food.
All six legs may be called into use when the honey bees are making beeswax. The worker bees hang in long chains inside the hive.
Their legs allow them to hang on to each other and mold beeswax into honeycomb cells.
Bee Anatomy – Abdomen of the Bee
The abdomen of the honey bee is also made up of segments. The major organs of bee anatomy are located in the abdomen.
Here the process of digestion and respiration occur. This also includes reproductive organs of the male bee (or drone) and queen bee.
Most honey bees will have a hair covered abdomen. Oh, and it also houses what might be the most well-known part of bee anatomy, the bee stinger
The stinger may the most unpopular part of bee anatomy for most of us. But without this defense mechanism bees could not survive.
The sting is actually a modified “ovipositor”. That is just a technical term for a structure involved in egg laying. . Only female honey bees have stingers.
Because the end of the worker bee stinger is barbed, she can not withdraw it from skin. So, if the bee stings you, she will die.
Having the stinger remain in the skin may be an advanced survival technique. The stinger and poison sac structure will continue to pump bee venom into the attacker for a few seconds.
Quick removal of the stinger will make any remedies for bee stings more effective. Scrape that stinger out!
Honey Bee Crop or Honey Stomach
The crop or honey stomach is a special expandable structure. It is located between the esophagus and true digestive tract. The crop stores collected nectar until the worker is ready to return to the hive.
The honey bee body has a digestive system, respiration system and circulatory system. These processes meet the needs of the bee in order to sustain life. They function a bit different than ours but most of this activity takes place in the abdomen.
Being one of the most popular insects in the world has resulted in many studies of the honey bee. Yet, we are still learning more about bees and trying to unravel this mysterious insect.