Anatomy of a Honey Bee

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No, we will not be dissecting our little pollinators, but instead admiring the basic anatomy that makes up a worker honey bee.

Studying the anatomy of honey bees can help grow our understanding of how to care for them. There are common similarities that group these guys in with the Insecta classification, but there are a few things unique to only our friends the bees.

While this is a brief and basic look at the anatomy of a honey bee, it has given me a better understanding and appreciation for how they operate. I also learned quite a few fun facts that I hadn't known before!

The Head

The head is the front part of the honey bee which holds many sensory organs as well as the bee's brain.

At the very front, we have the two antennae. Though these are a small part of the honey bee they are arguably the most important. Used for not only feel and depth perception but also smell, taste and even a form of hearing! It is safe to say that without the antennae, our bees would be helpless.

The honey bee has two sets of eyes - simple eyes and compound eyes. The simple eyes, or ocelli, are the three small eyes on the top of the head. They are used to detect motion in their surroundings.

The compound eyes are the two big, round, noticeable eyes on the sides of the bee's head made up of tiny light detectors. They are similar to a house fly's eyes you might see in a cartoon, many small versions of an image are sent to the brain to make one clear image. 

The tongue of the honey bee is called the proboscis. It is very long in comparison to the length of the honey bee. It is used to go down into the nectaries of flowers and drink up the sweet liquid used to make honey.

The Thorax

The thorax is the center section of the honey bee where the wings and legs attach. Muscles in the middle of the body help fuel their fast-beating wings. The thorax also houses the esophagus which connects to the stomach below. 

There are two sets of wings belonging to the honey bee. The larger forewings and smaller hindwings both contribute to lifting our little bee up off the ground and get to where she needs to go. Honey bees fly about an average of 24km/h (or 15 mph). Another big contributor to their flight are muscles located in the thorax that help thrust them up into the sky.

A honey bee is each born with six legs. The legs are all used for landing, as well as equipped with taste sensors to help find their food. The front two legs are used to clean off their sensitive antennae. The middle are used to help with pollen collection and the back legs are set up with pollen baskets to carry pollen back to the hive.

Pollen baskets are very important to a honey bee. They are long hairs that wrap around the hind legs and can be filled with pollen. When filled, they will look like colourful "pants" on the hind legs. You can see different colours of "pollen pants" coming back to the hive, as pollen can be many different colours. 

The Abdomen

The abdomen is the round, back end of a honey bee. It is home to many of the honey bee's organs including the heart, digestive organs, and their venom sac. This is all protected by their tough outer shell exoskeleton.

Underneath the abdomen lies they honey bee's wax glands. These glands can only be used for about the first 12 days of a honey bee's life. After that they degenerate, no longer produce wax. This keeps the queen bee busy, supplying the hive with many young bees to create more wax.

The dreaded stinger. A fear to most, this part of the honey bee is also detrimental to itself. The stingers are barbed and are made to stay stuck in the victim. What ends up happening is that the honey bee dies trying to free herself and ripping out her own stinger from her body.

A fun fact about stingers is that queen bees have no barb and can sting many times, and drones (male bees) have no stinger at all. Sorry boys!

Below I have added a diagram that I have found very useful in my research.

It depicts certain body parts of the worker honey bee as well as the head, thorax and abdomen sections. It is also from an above view which I think is easier to read than the side view diagrams.

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Now that we have a better understanding of what makes up a honey bee, we can make more sense of how our amazing fuzzy friends do what they do!