1.3 Body Sections


Body Sections Interactive

The Head

The head of a honeybee contains the bee’s brain, eyes, ocelli, antennae, mouth parts including the proboscis, and several glands. Among these glands are the mandibular and hypopharyngeal glands which in workers of a certain age produce royal and worker jelly. The mandibular glands in queens produce the pheromones called “queen substance” that keep the hive in order and allow the workers to identify her.

The Thorax

The middle section of a honey bee is called the thorax and serves as the anchor point for three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. Much of the inside of the thorax is taken up by muscles used to power flight and ambulation.

The Abdomen

Photo showing the larger abdomen of the queen.

The abdomen of a honeybee is its hindmost section and houses most of the bee’s internal organs, such as scent and wax glands, the digestive system, reproductive organs, heart, and the sting.

The abdomen is composed of overlapping sections of exoskeleton that can slide and expand to facilitate breathing and change the shape of the bee for balance and aerodynamics, as well as stinging. Technically, there are nine sections of the abdomen, but from the outside there appear to be six.

Pictured is a queen whose abdomen is much larger than the abdomens of workers and drones.

The Antennae

Close up photo of antennae showing the tiny hairs that allow bees to sense odors, tastes, and environmental characteristics.

The Mouth Parts

Close up of the mouth parts including mandibles, maxillae, and labrum.

Sting

The honey bee sting (commonly called the "stinger", but referred to as the ovipositor by scientists) is a complex device that female honey bees use to defend the nest.

The sting is made up of several parts, including two extremely sharp barbed lancets, a venom sac, and glands containing alarm substance.

Close up of the honey bee sting parts.
Close up of a bee stinging a man's finger.

The sting is effective at embedding itself in flesh because the two reciprocating lancets slide back and forth due to reflex muscular contraction, thanks to the ganglia, and the barbs work like a ratchet to thrust the lancets deeper as the muscles continue throbbing after the sting is pulled out of the bee's body. Venom is injected through a hollow tube between the lancets. Since the barbs on the lancets are so effective at sticking in flesh, the entire stinging apparatus is ripped out of the worker's body, causing the cuticle to rupture and the bee to dehydrate and die shortly thereafter.

The stings of queen honey bees are not barbed nearly as much and can be used repeatedly without damaging the queen's body, but they are used almost exclusively to kill rival queens. Since the ovipositor is adapted from the female sex organ, drones have none and cannot sting.

Wings

Honey bees have four wings, though it can sometimes be hard to tell that there are more than two. That's because during flight the smaller hindwing hooks onto the forewing, or larger front wing, through the use of a row of wing hooks (or humuli), making the two wings on each side appear and act as one bigger wing, increasing flight efficiency. The wings unhook when bees land so they can be folded back, allowing bees to fit into deep flowers and pack into hives more efficiently.

It is difficult to tell, but honey bees have four wings. The smaller hindwings hook onto the forewings making it appear that there are only two.

Legs

Bees use their legs for walking, landing, and clinging. Their legs also have many modifications that allow them to comb pollen off their bodies, carry pollen to the hive, clean their antennae, and move wax scales.

Claws

Bee claws are what we would call the feet of the bee. They are used for walking and clinging onto things like flowers and combs in the hive.

Bees can flex their claws when they want to cling onto something and relax them if they need to walk on flat surfaces.

Pollen Combs

Pollen combs (in bee anatomy) are hairy sections on the inside of a bee's hind legs.

Bees collect pollen with their forelegs and midlegs by rubbing them over their hairy bodies and eventually transfer that pollen to the pollen comb on the inside of their hind legs. From there, the bees rub their rear legs together, raking off the pollen onto the pollen press on the opposing leg.

Pollen Basket

The pollen basket, a concave section of a honey bee worker's hind leg that stores pollen during foraging flights.

The pollen basket is a broad, concave section on the outside of a honey bee worker's hind legs that serves as a relatively secure receptacle for holding pollen collected during foraging flights so that pollen can be brought back to the hive for later consumption.

The bee scrapes off pollen from all over its body with its forelegs, gradually moves that pollen rearward onto a special place on its hind legs called the pollen rake, then compresses the pollen into dense nuggets using a joint called the pollen press, after which it is stored in the pollen basket until it is removed and placed in cells in the brood nest of the hive.

Pollen Rake

The pollen rake is an aptly named rake-like structure around the pollen press on a bee's hind leg that a bee uses to scrape pollen off of the opposing rear leg's pollen comb.

Pollen Press

The pollen press is a specially adapted joint on a bee's hind leg that can be used to compress pollen into a tight mass for more efficient storage while flying.

Using the press, the bee will squeeze the pollen into a dense nugget and pack it onto its pollen basket.

Eyes

Honey bees have two compound eyes. This means that each eye is made up of thousands of smaller tubes called ommatidia that each project an image through a lens, or facet, on the outside of the tube onto visual cells at the bottom of each tube. These images are thought to be combined in the bee's brain to create a single mosaic image rather than thousands of individual images.

Bees are attracted to motion and can see ultraviolet light, which many flowers exploit to their advantage by focusing bees' attention on their nectaries through the ultraviolet spectrum.

Close up of the eye showing the small tubes known as ommatidia that comprise the bee's compound eye.

Ocelli

Ocelli are three little photoreceptors or eyes (ocellus, the singular form, literally means "little eye") on top of a bee's head that each have a single lens.

While scientists are still trying to fully understand how ocelli function and how bees use the information provided by them, these photoreceptors are used to monitor light intensity and seem to be important for flight stability and orienting geographically.

Close up of the ocelli -- the three photoreceptors on top of a bee's head.

Proboscis

The Proboscis is the tongue of the bee, used like a straw to suck up fluids such as nectar, honey, or water.

Hairy body

One of the defining characteristics of bees is their hairy bodies. They have hair all over, even on their eyes!

Bee hairs are branched, somewhat like the ribs or barbules of a feather, making them extremely good at capturing pollen when bees land on flowers, allowing the bees to carry that pollen to other flowers of the same species and pollinate them.

Honey bees also eat pollen, so having a passive system to collect it while foraging for nectar is a great way to complete two functions at once.

Close up showing the branched hair that covers much of a bee's body.

Spiracles

Spiracles are small openings on the sides of all insects, including bees, that allow air to enter the tracheae and ultimately feed oxygen directly to the tissues of the insects.

Bees don't have lungs. Instead, they move oxygen through their respiratory system by expanding and contracting their abdomens. Spiracles can be opened and closed at will through muscular contraction to prevent moisture loss in the body or to prevent water from entering the trachea.

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