Are Bees Insects?

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Bees, especially the well-known honey bees, hold a special place in our culture. The question of “is a bee an insect” may seem very elementary. While bees are often grouped together with other insects, there are some important differences. In the scientific world, all living things are grouped according to certain characteristics. But, the true classification of these winged friends goes deeper than one might think. I mean they are bugs right-or are they?

Honey bee insect foraging on flower image.

While it certainly does not matter to the bees, proper classification is important for conservation and research. A quick study of basic honey bee anatomy gives us some clues to where our bees belong in the classification-but we must know what to look for.

Taxonomy of Bees: Insect Classification

Before we can definitively say if a bees is an insect, we must know a little bit about the classification system. All insects are members of the Animal Kingdom. Makes sense right – they certainly are not plants!

Keep in mind that researchers sometimes disagree. It is not unusual for something to be classified in one category and then moved to another in a few years.

They are classified in a hierarchical system based on characteristics:

As we group living things by certain shared characteristics, the categories begin as a broad group and narrow as we move down the list.

  • Kingdom – Phylum – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species
  • Kingdom (Animalia) – Phylum (Arthropoda), Class (Insecta) – ah ha this is where look for our honeybees!

Classification of Honey Bees

In this system, the second level is Phylum. We find bees in the Phylum “Arthropod”.  Arthropods have segmented bodies, exoskeletons (instead of skin) and at least 3 pair of legs. Yes, honey bees are arthropods – they fit each requirement.

Class Insecta

The next level of classification is “Class”. The Class Insecta includes all the insects in the world. And, there are a lot of members in this group. 

Insects are divided into at least 29 orders. And there in the “order” Hymenoptera we find our bees.

  • Coleoptera – beetles
  • Diptera – flies
  • Hymenoptera – ants, wasps, bees
  • Lepidoptera – moths and butterflies
Labeled physical characteristics that make bees members of class insecta. Three body sections and 3 pairs of legs.

Insect Characteristics the a Bee

  • Segmented body – bees have 3 body segments
  • Six legs
  • Wings – two pairs of transparent, membranous wings attached to their thorax. The presence of four wings is a distinguishing feature of insects.
  • Antennae- a pair of long, segmented antennae on their head. Bee antenna are sensory organs that allow them to detect and perceive their surroundings, including bee pheromones
  • Exoskeleton: Like all insects, honey bees have an exoskeleton—a hard, protective outer covering. It provides support and protection.
  • Metamorphosis: Honey bees undergo complete metamorphosis, transitioning through 4 life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult – completing a true honey bee life cycle as an insect.

This description sure sounds like our honey bee – doesn’t it? Yes, identification is confirmed. A honey bee is an insect – along with Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees and many others.

Some entomologists (scientists who study insects) assert that an insect should also have external mouth parts and a pair of antenna (bees have 2). No problem, our bees fit that description too!

Though in practice we sometimes lump them together, bees have some close relatives. For example, wasps and even ants have similarities to their bee cousins. But, they have some attributes that make them different.

Chart of the scientific insect classification of western honey bee image.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Classification

As we move down the family tree, classification continues dividing members into different families and subfamilies based on their similarities and differences.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Genus: Apis
  • Species: A. mellifera

The Western Honey Bee is also called the European Honey Bee – Apis mellifera. But, there are several species of honey bees.

It is important to remember that the scientific community sometimes changes things around so this information is not set in stone for eternity. I imagine the insects do not care one bit what we think they are. They know what to do.

Is a Bee a Bug?

Now that we have confirmed that a bee is an insect, it is time to consider another common term used to describe them.

We must consider is a bee a bug? Insects that are true bugs belong to the Order “Hemiptera” – while honey bees are in the order “Hymenoptera”. So no – bees are not  true bugs.

Why are Bees Not True Bugs?

One of the major differences between bugs and bees is the structure of their mouth parts. Bees have mouth parts that are designed to suck up and drink liquid food.

For instance, bees make honey from collected plant nectar. Bumble bees suck up sweet nectar too.

Bugs have mouth parts that are designed to tear and puncture. Aphids are bugs that feed on plant juices. But, they must puncture the plant wall to get to the fluid.

Bees are classified as insects because they fit the criteria required for that scientific classification. But, specific characteristics of bees make them quite different from other members of the class.

Honey bee on white flower not a bug, butterfly on yellow flower not a fly.

Defining Honey Bees

The classification of bees as insects is important in the efforts of conservation and research. But, the task can be daunting. The common names for some creatures adds more mystery to this topic.

Take the butterfly for instance. A butterfly is not a fly. It is a member of the Order – “Lepidoptera”. This classification (Lepidoptera) includes butterflies and moths-but not true flies.

Confused yet? It can be especially confusing when classifying insects that come from so many different species. This is the beauty of life – diversity.

Bees are insects but they are not in this grouping alone. They belong to the Apoidea superfamily, which includes cockroaches. Yet they are very different.

FAQs

Is a bee an insect?

Yes, bees belong to the insect class Insecta within the order Hymenoptera. They share many characteristics with other insects, such as a segmented body, six legs, and a pair of antennae.

Is a bee an animal?

Yes, in the scientific classification system a bee is classified in the animal kingdom.

What distinguishes bees from other insects?

Bees are distinct for various reasons, including their specialized feeding habits (nectar and pollen), complex social structures (in some species), and unique adaptations for pollination.

Are all bees the same species?

No, there are thousands of bee species worldwide, each with its own characteristics, behaviors, and ecological roles.

Why is a bee not a bug?

Bugs have mouthparts designed for puncturing, the mouth parts of bees are designed to suck up food.

Final Words

If you want to learn more about insects in your area, I suggest The Bees in Your Backyard – my copy has come in handy many times.

There you have it. A bee is an insect but a bee is not a bug. With over 900,000 different types of insects in the world, we only have 899,999 more to learn about.

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