Honey bee science

show/hide words to know

Antennae: the long, thin structures on the head of some animals that are used to sense surroundings.

Exoskeleton: hard body covering... more

Thorax: in general the part of the body between the neck and waist in humans and the central part of an insects body where the legs and wings are attached... more

Bee Anatomy

Honey bees are insects and have five characteristics that are common to most insects.

  • They have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton.
  • They have three main body parts: head, thorax, abdomen.
  • They have a pair of antennae that are attached to their head.
  • They have three pairs of legs used for walking.
  • They have two pairs of wings.

You can use the illustrations below to explore the anatomy of the honey bee both what you can see from the outside and also the parts of the honey bee located inside.

Honey bee anatomy

Labeled illustration of the exterior anatomy of a honey bee. Click to enlarge.

Looking at the Outside of a Honey Bee

Head Location of the eyes, brain, where the antennae attach.
Mandibles Strong outer mouthparts that help protect the proboscis.
Proboscis (Not shown) Tube-like mouth part used to suck up fluids.
Ocelli One of two types of insect eyes used to detect motion.
Eye (Compound) The second type of eyes made of many light detectors called ommatidia.
Antenna Movable segmented feelers that detect airborne scents and currents.
Thorax Midsection where the (6) legs and wings attach.
Abdomen Hind part of the bee and where the stinger is located.
Stinger Or sting, is a sharp organ at the end of the bee's abdomen used to inject venom.
Forewings Wings closest to the head.
Hind Wings Wings farthest from the head.
Forelegs Legs closest to the head.
Antennae Cleaners Notches filled with stiff hairs that help bees clean their antennae. There is one on each foreleg.
Middle Legs Leg located between the foreleg and hind leg.
Hind Legs Legs farthest from the head. In workers, these legs have a unique set of tools used to collect and carry pollen called the press, brush, and auricle.
Coxa First segment of an insect leg.
Trochanter Second segment of an insect leg.
Femur Third segment of an insect leg.
Tibia Fourth segment of an insect leg; the tibia of the hind leg holds the pollen basket, where pollen is carried.
Metatarsus Fifth segment of an insect leg; the metatarsus of the hind leg holds special pollen collecting tools.
Tarsus The last segment of the leg and what touches the walking surface.
Tarsus Claw Claw found on the last segment of the leg.
Bee head anatomy

Labeled illustration of the exterior anatomy of the head of a honey bee. Click to enlarge.

Compound Eye A type of eyes of insect eye that is made of many light detectors called ommatidia.
Ocellus A type of insect eye used to detect motion. (Plural: ocelli)
Antenna A movable segmented feeler that detects airborne scents and currents.
Labrum Mouthpart that can help handle food and that forms the top of the feeding tube.
Mandible Strong outer mouthpart that helps protect the proboscis.
Maxilla Mouthpart beneath the mandible that can handle food items.
Labial Palp Mouthpart used to feel and taste during feeding.
Proboscis Tube-like mouth part used to suck up fluids.
Glossa An insect's hairy tongue that can stick to nectar to pull it in toward the mouth.

Honey bee internal anatomy

Looking Inside a Honey Bee

1 - Proboscis Straw-like mouthparts of a bee used to drink fluids.
2 - Maxillae The outer sheath of the proboscis which surrounds the labium.
3 - Mandible A pair of jaws used to chew pollen and work wax for comb building. They also help with anything that the bee needs to manipulate.
4 - Labrum A movable flap on the head that covers the opening of the food canal and proboscis
5 - Food Canal Like our mouths, this is the opening by which the bee will take in food. Bees' food is almost always liquid in the form of nectar or honey.
6 - Pharynx Muscles used to move the labium and suck up nectar from flowers.
7 - Esophagus The hollow tube through which ingested fluids pass to the honey stomach and later the midgut.
8 - Hypopharyngeal gland Gland that produces some of the compounds necessary for making royal jelly, used to feed the larvae.
9 - Brain Honey bees have excellent learning and memory processing abilities. Their brain processes information used in navigation and communication as well as memory. The brain also controls many of the basic bee body functions.
10 - Salivary Gland The salivary glands have a number of functions. Like the hypopharyngeal gland, the salivary glands produce some compounds necessary for producing royal jelly. The salivary glands produce liquid used to dissolve sugar, and also produce compounds used to clean the body and contribute to the colony’s chemical identity.
11 - Flight Muscles The thorax muscles, which power the bee’s wings for flying and movement. These muscles work very hard and can help the bee to beat its wings up to 230 times per second.
12 - Heart Unlike in mammals, honey bees and insects have an open circulatory system, meaning their blood is not contained within tubes like veins or arteries. The blood, or hemolymph, in insects is free-flowing throughout the body cavity and is pumped via the heart. The heart is the structure in red, and acts like a pumping leaky tube to help move the hemolymph throughout the body
13 - Opening of Spiracle The respiratory system in insects is a series of hollow tubes connected to air sacs in the body. The openings of these hollow tubes are called spiracles. The tubes are called trachea which then provide oxygen and gas exchange to all tissues in the body.
14 - Air sac Air filled sacs used as reservoirs of air in the insect body.
15 - Midgut Contains the proventriculus, ventriculus, and small intestine. This is where most of the digestion and nutrient absorption occurs in the insect body
16 - Heart Openings Openings in the heart tube which take in and pump out hemolymph.
17 - Ileum A short tube connecting the midgut to the hindgut. The Ileum also often houses microbes, which aid in digestion.
18 - Malpighian Tubules A set of small tubes that are used to absorb water, waste, and salts and other solutes from body fluid, and remove them from the body.
19 - Rectum The rectum acts like our large intestine and is the bees primary location of water absorption for the gut after digestion and nutrient absorption.
20 - Anus The exit of the digestive system, used to excrete food waste (poop) while in flight.
21 - Stinger Also called "sting" is used to puncture the skin and pump venom into the wound. In worker bees the stinger has a barbed end. Once pushed into the skin the stinger remains in the victim. The venom sac will remain with the stinger. If left in the body the stinger will continue to pump venom from the venom sac into the victim. Queen bees have a longer and un-barbed stinger. Drones (males) do not have a stinger.
22 - Stinger Sheath The hardened tube, from which the stinger can slide in and out.
23 - Sting Canal The sting is hollow, allowing venom to pass through the stinger. This is also the canal via which an egg is passed, when the queen lays an egg.
24 - Venom Sack Holds the venom produced by the venom gland, and can then contract to pump venom through the stinger.
25 - Venom Gland The gland which produces the venom that damages tissue if injected into the body.
26 - Wax Glands Worker bees start to secrete wax about 12 days after emerging. About six days later the gland degenerates and that bee will no longer produce wax. The queen is continually laying eggs to maintain colony size and to produce more new workers that produce wax.
27 - Ventral Nerve Cord Like the nerve cord in our spine, which holds bundles of nerve fibers that sends signals from our brain to the rest of our body.
28 - Proventriculus A constricted portion of the honey bee foregut or honey stomach, which can control the flow of nectar and solids. This allows honey bees to store nectar in the honey stomach without being digested.
29 -

Honey Stomach (Foregut/Crop)

A storage sac, used in honey bees to carry nectar. The honey stomach is hardened to prevent fluids from entering the body at this location.
30 - Aorta Blood vessel located in the back of a bee that carries blood from the heart to the organs.
31 - Esophagus Part of the bee digestive system that begins below the mouth and connects to the honey stomach.
32 - Ventral Nerve Cord Same as 27. This is a large bundle of nerves from the brain that sends signals to the rest of the bee's body.
33 - Labium In bees a tongue-like appendage used to help drink up nectar. Like our tongue bees can taste with this organ. The labium fits inside of the maxilla (2), kind of like a straw.

View Citation

You may need to edit author's name to meet the style formats, which are in most cases "Last name, First name."

Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Bee Anatomy
  • Author(s): Christopher M. Jernigan
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: June 13, 2017
  • Date accessed: June 12, 2024
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/honey-bee-anatomy

APA Style

Christopher M. Jernigan. (2017, June 13). Bee Anatomy. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved June 12, 2024 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/honey-bee-anatomy

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Christopher M. Jernigan. "Bee Anatomy". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 13 June, 2017. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/honey-bee-anatomy

MLA 2017 Style

Christopher M. Jernigan. "Bee Anatomy". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 13 Jun 2017. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 12 Jun 2024. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/honey-bee-anatomy

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
Bee illustration

Bee anatomy is very closely tied to what bees can do, including finding food, collecting pollen and nectar, and flying.

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