Parts of a Bee {Guide to Bee Anatomy}

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How much do you know about bee anatomy or the primary body parts of a bee? For instance, 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 but we still have more to learn. We do know that their perfect design allows them to do the tasks they need to survive.

Honey bee image showing the profile major body parts or anatomy.

When you consider all the amazing honey bee facts that are known, you must be a bit impressed. They can do so many different tasks – and do them well.

Honey Bee Anatomy

Though small in size, this insect’s body is a complex arrangement of specialized structures. All of the parts of a honey bee work together to make survival possible.

Every special job has a matching anatomical structure to help get the task completed. These include flying distances to collect food, defending the hive, building beeswax comb etc.

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 as a whole.

A good working knowledge of how the different parts of the body work together is especially helpful for new beginning beekeepers. If you understand how you colonies perform certain tasks, it is easier to understand the importance of each step in the process.

If you colony has issues, you are in a better position to ask questions and get better advice about beehive management.

It is beneficial to understand what normal bee anatomy looks like. Are the queen’s wings supposed to be that short? This is where some good beekeeping books comes in handy, many have excellent diagrams.

These beekeeping basics are extremely important if you want to be successful. Another book that focuses a bit on bee anatomy and behavior is The Biology of the Honey Bee. I have a dog-eared copy on my beekeeper book shelf.

Honey Bee Anatomy Diagram

Honey bee anatomy diagram with parts of a bee labeled image.

Bees Have 3 Main Body Parts

Honey bees are insects. And like all insects, they have 3 major body sections. Each section has a primary focus that contributes to the overall function of the whole body.

  1. head
  2. thorax
  3. abdomen.

The Bee Head – Sensory Body Part

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 foraging insect to maneuver through the environment.

In order to find and gather food, the workers bees must know where to look and how to get there. They must 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 (mandibles) and sensory hairs.

Close up of a bee head with eyes and antenna image.

How Many Eyes do Bees Have?

Honey bees have 5 eyes. In fact, they have 2 different kinds – compound and simple. Each type communicates visual perception in different ways.

The 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.

Those of a drone or male bee are even more powerful. They have to be able to see virgin queens in flight! Their eyes are well suited to notice movement.

The large compound eyes are also covered with hair. Yep, bees have furry eyeballs! The hairs are very sensitive and help bees navigate. Honey bee sight is actually quite remarkable.

Bees see flowers differently than humans. In addition to seeing colors, they 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 worker navigate and know when its time to return to the hive.

Worker honey bee closeup view of head structures.

Do Bees Have a 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.

This ability is especially important to the scout bees whose job is to seek out resources for the hive.

One special structure located on the 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 flight because we see bees clean them before taking off to collect pollen or nectar.

Another difference, although they need oxygen – bees do not have lungs. There respiration system is different acquiring fresh air through holes in the body rather than a nose.

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.

Honey bee with proboscis mouth part extended image.

The length of the proboscis determines from which flowers nectar can be harvested. Flowers with a long throat may be too deep for the honey 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.

Jaws and mandibles are also used to manipulate and shape wax, chew pollen and other tasks. For their size, the jaw of the honey bee is quite strong.

Brood Food Glands

Young adult workers have well developed brood food glands (including the Hypopharyngeal gland) located inside the mouth.

These glands are able to produce different types of food for bee brood – including royal jelly.

Workers of any age can feed bee larvae but young adults are the most productive. It is important that they be well fed, in order to, nourish the new generation.

Thorax: Middle Section-Locomotion

The middle section of the honey bee is the thorax. This part of a bee has 3 sections though it looks like just one to the naked eye. A lot of action takes place within this part of bee anatomy.

Bees have 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 structures of the thorax.

  • wings
  • legs
  • special structures – pollen basket

Honey Bee Wings

A honey bee has 4 wings ( 2 pair on each side of the thorax). The forewings are larger than the hind 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. For years, researchers could not understand how bees can fly with such small wings.

Later, it was revealed that special movement of the wings made it possible.

In addition to flying, 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 mobility. But, those 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 sensitive antenna before taking flight.

She also uses comb-like structures on the legs to clean pollen off her hairy body. And yes, bees do in fact have knees!

Close up showing specialized legs of the honey bee anatomy image.

Special Worker Bee Body Parts

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. Other leg structures such as the pollen brush and pollen press help load grains of pollen onto the legs.

Only the worker bees have pollen baskets. Drone bees and Queen bees don’t need pollen baskets because they do not serve as foragers for food.

Another special part of worker bee anatomy is the wax glands. Wax glands are found in pairs on the underside of the abdomen. Each wax gland secretes a small clear scale of beeswax.

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 often referred to as bees festooning.

Their legs allow them to hang on to each other and mold beeswax into hexagonal honeycomb cells. We call this “drawing comb” and the colony must build a lot of comb to form their home.

Abdomen of the Honey 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.

The scent glands responsible for honey bee alarm pheromones and orientation signals are also located here.

The reproductive organs of bees are found inside the body. The only real purpose for males in the colony is to have them mate with virgin queens. Inside the abdomen of males you will find internal testes that hold semen and sperm.

Queen bees have large ovaries that produce eggs and a special structure called a spermatheca to hold semen. Honey bee reproduction is complex.

Mating flights occur outside the hive at special areas called drone congregation areas. It is a risky business as not all queens make it back to the hive.

Drones that are successful in mating do not return – they die after the process.

Having well mated queens is important to the colony. As the only one that can lay fertilized eggs – if the queen dies, she must be replaced quickly.

Honey bees have a hair covered abdomen. This is the part of the bee that has the most notable color or markings. In one hive, you may see many honey bee color variations range from light to dark.

The fuzzy abdomen makes them good for bee pollination efforts. And at the end of the body, we find what might be the most well-known part of bee anatomy, the stinger

Honey Bee Stingers

The stinger may be the most unpopular part of bee anatomy for most of us. But without this defense mechanism, the hive could not survive. There are 2 different types of stingers in the colony.

Only females have stingers. The sting is actually a modified “ovipositor”. That is just a technical term for a structure involved in bee egg laying. .

Because workers have a barbed stinger, she can not withdraw it from skin. So, if a worker stings you, she will likely die.

Having the stinger remain in the skin may be an advanced survival technique. The stinger and venom sac structure will continue to pump venom into the sting wound for a few seconds.

Quick removal of the stinger will make any remedies for bee stings more effective. Scrape that stinger out!

Honey bee on flower close up of abdomen and pollen baskets image.

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.

The crop stores collected nectar until the worker is ready to return to the hive. No true digestion happens in the crop. Honey is not bee vomit as you may read elsewhere.

This ability of carry raw nectar in the crop back to the hive is important. Without this special part of a worker bee, they would not be able to produce honey.

Being one of the most popular insects in the world has resulted in many studies. Yet, we are still learning more bee facts and trying to unravel this mysterious insect.

In addition to basic bee anatomy, each type of bee in the hive has specialized structures or body parts that allow them to fulfil their role. Amazing isn’t it?


Do honey bees have a heart?

Honey bees have an open circulatory system. They do have a heart structure but no arteries or veins.

What type of legs do honey bees have?

Honeybees have 6 legs – 3 on each side. The front legs are designed for cleaning antenna and molding wax. The rear legs are designed to carry pollen back to the hive.

Do bees poop?

Yes, honey bee do poop but they try to only expel wastes when outside the hive. Those little yellow splotches on your car…. could be honey bee poop.

Do honey bees have blood?

Honey bees do not have blood. Instead, they have a clear liquid called haemolymph that carries all the nutrients they need to survive. It does not carry oxygen like human blood.

How do bees breathe?

Honey bees have valves called spiracles on the thorax and abdomen. They connect to hollow tubes (called trachea) that allow the exchange of gasses.

Final Thoughts

Isn’t it amazing that this tiny insect has so many specialized body parts. They may not be large and noticeable but each component is necessary for survival of the colony. Thousands of individuals working together to collect the resources bees need and take care of the family.

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