Exploring Honey Bee Anatomy-Parts of a Bee
Did you know that honey bees have noses? Well, they do. At least they have structures that function much like our noses. These remarkable insects have been the subject of study for many years. Still, we learn more honey bee facts each year. Let’s look into the form and function of the parts of a bee – 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 the hive 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 life in the hive and how the colony functions.
Knowing more about honey bees, is very important to beekeepers. We are better caretakers of the bees if we understand more about them.
A good working knowledge of bee anatomy is especially helpful for new beekeepers.
The beekeeper is able to ask questions more clearly and get better advice regarding an problems when using the correct terms. This is where a good book comes in handy – I recommend The Biology of the Honey Bee.
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.
The Head of a Bee – Sensory
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.
Structures located on the head gather information that makes it possible for the bee to maneuver through the environment.
In order to find and gather food, the worker bee must know where to look and how to get there. Recognize familiar landmarks and sense when the weather is too bad to fly.
The head is the location of 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 compound eye of worker bees 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 are very sensitive and help the bees navigate.Honey bee sight is actually quite remarkable.
Bees 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. And, many beekeepers would agree that the bee does have a nose and a darn good one. The antenna collects information about taste, touch and smell.
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. These structures are able to detect airflow. This measures 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. A useful tool to suck up water or sweet plant nectar.
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.
Unless these plants have other nectaries on the outside of the long deep bloom, their nectar will be reserved for other pollinators with a longer reach.
The Thorax : Locomotion
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.
Honey Bee Wings
A honey bee has 4 wings ( 2 pair on each side of the thorax). The front wings are larger than the back wings. You can see small veins in the wing that offer support.
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.
For years, researchers could not understand how the honey bee could fly with such small wings. The bees held on to their secret and refused to tell.
In addition to flying, bee wings help the colony in other ways. Worker bees help control temperatures inside the hive by fanning 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.
How Many Legs do Bees Have?
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. Drone bees (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. We call this “drawing comb” and the colony must build a lot of comb to form their home.
Bee Anatomy – Abdomen of the Bee
The abdomen of the honey bee is also made up of segments. The major organs that control digestion, circulation and respiration are located in the abdomen.
Also included are the reproductive organs of the male bee (or drone) and queen bee.
Honey bees have a hair covered abdomen. And at the end of the bee we find what might be the most well-known part of bee anatomy, the bee stinger
Honey Bee Stinger
The stinger may the most unpopular part of bee anatomy for most of us. But without this defense mechanism the hive 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 – Honey Stomach
The crop or honey stomach is a special expandable structure. It is located between the esophagus and true digestive tract of the worker bee.
The crop stores collected nectar until the worker is ready to return to the hive.
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.