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Basic Body Parts of a Bee

How much do you know about bee anatomy or the primary body 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 bees each year.

Close up image of main body parts of honey bee anatomy image.

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.

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The members of the colony must be able to fly, forage, defend the hive and do all the things bees need to 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.

honey bee using wings to fly - honey bee anatomy - parts of a bee

A good working knowledge of how the different parts of the body work together is especially helpful for new beekeepers.

The beekeeper is able to ask questions more clearly and get better advice regarding any problems when using the correct terms.

This is where a good beekeeping book comes in handy. Understanding honey bee basics is extremely important in successful beekeeping.

Another book that focuses more on anatomy is – The Biology of the Honey Bee for those of you truly interested in the inner workings of the bees.

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. These are :

  1. head
  2. thorax
  3. abdomen.

Each section has a primary focus that contributes to the overall function of the whole body.

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 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 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 or male bee are even more powerful. They have to be able to see virgin queens in flight!

This 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 worker 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.

Compound eyes of a worker bee image.

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.

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 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: 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. 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 bees could fly with such small wings. The bees held on to their secret and refused to tell.

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 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!

Worker bee on flower with full pollen baskets image.

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.

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.

Also included are the reproductive organs of the male bee (or drone) and queen bee. Males have internal testes that hold semen.

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

Both sexes are important to the life of the colony. As the only bee that can lay fertilized eggs – if the queen bee dies, she must be replaced quickly.

Honey bees have a hair covered abdomen. 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.

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 a worker’s stinger is barbed, she can not withdraw it from skin. So, if the bee stings you, she will likely 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. 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 the special part of a worker bee, they would not be able to produce honey.

Frequently Asked Questions About Honey Bee Anatomy

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.

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

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