Anatomy and biology of a bee

Have you ever looked closely at the morphology of a bee?
It’s just fascinating and beautiful to watch, so precise and efficient. Each part of the body has a well-defined role with a specific objective.

The body is divided into 3 parts:

  • the head,
  • the thorax
  • and the abdomen

anatomie abeille

I – Head

It is composed of

  • 2 eyes
  • 3 ocelli
  • 2 antennas
  • Mouthpieces

The eyes

tete abeilleThey are composed of a number of important facets (ommatidia) which are different according to the castes:

  • The worker: from 3,000 to 4,000 facets
  • The queen: from 4,000 to 5,000 facets
  • The male: from 7 000 to more than 8 000 facets.

Each facet is independent of the others and diverges by 1°. This allows the bees to detect the movements on 360°. Moreover, they are able to detect 300 images per second against 24 images per second for men.

The colors perceived by the bees are three:

  • Blue
  • Green
  • Ultraviolet

They perceive the spectrum from 300 to 500 nanometers unlike men 400 to 800 nanometers.


Comes from the Latin word “ocelles” which means small eye. These are fairly simple lenses that allow the bee to capture ultraviolet light to direct itself with light intensity. They are complementary to the eyes. They are mainly used to navigate with the sun or to leave the hive.

The antennas

These are true multifunctional sensors that allow the bee to interact with its environment at the level of :

  • of the touch
  • the sense of smell (detection and localization of odors)
  • of taste
  • vibrations

Each antenna consists of 13 segments in males and 12 segments in workers. Always on the move, they constantly analyze their environment.

The antennae play an essential role in the communication of the bees with each other within the colony via pheromones. They are real high performance sensors with no less than 170 sensors and are able to detect sources of nectar interesting for them at several hundred meters.

The oral part

mandibules abeilleThis part is adapted to collect nectar and honeydew with the proboscis but is also used to grind solid materials, to work the wax with the mandibles

The mandibles are multifunctional, they are used to shape the wax and to knead the propolis but also as pliers, plane, spatula or scissors. They are powerful and constantly used.

The proboscis is composed of the maxillae, the labial palps and the tongue (or probocis). This set is mobile and expandable as needed. At rest, it is folded under the head of the bee.

The maxillae and palps form the proboscis allowing the bee to suck nectar from the flowers as well as the water necessary for the colony. The tongue is composed of a capillary tube and a suction cup for the collection during the foraging of flowers. The length of the tongue differs according to the type of bees thus the Apis Mellifera Mellifera has a shorter tongue 6,1mm against 7 mm for the Apis Mellifera Caucasia. This can be one of the criteria sought by the beekeeper for the acacia which has deeper corollas.

II – Thorax

The thorax is the central part, mainly focused on locomotion, composed of 2 pairs of wings and 3 pairs of legs. The muscles of the thorax allow the bee to control the movement of the wings during flight. The rapid contractions of the muscles produce the flapping of the wings.

The legs

They are composed of 3 pairs of legs. The front, middle and back legs which are all composed of 5 jointed limbs. The coxa, the trochanter, the femur, the tibia and the tarsus, also divided into 5 parts, the basitarsus, the dactyl or metatarsus, the 3rd tarsus, the allux and the distitarsus. The last element is composed of 2 claws and a suction cup allowing the bee to cling to different surfaces.

The front legs are mainly used to clean the front of the body and especially the antennas with a hook provided for this purpose.

The median legs are used to clean the thorax when it is filled with pollen and as a link between the head and the abdomen

The hind legs are used to collect pollen and propolis. She has a comb to brush her body and collect the pollen she has coated herself with during flower visits and a basket to store the pollen balls after having moistened them.

The wings

The function of the wings is essentially related to locomotion (flight). The bees can fly up to 60 Km/h in peak and for an average of 20 to 30Km/h. They are also used for ventilation of the hive and for the diffusion of pheromones emitted by Nasanov’s glands which indicate to the colony the gathering place.

The frontal wings are larger than the posterior wings. The latter attach themselves to the first ones during the flight with the help of hooks (Hamuli) and detach themselves this one finished. These hooks allow the bee to unify its wings and give it better stability during flights. This system allows him to reduce turbulence during his movements

III – The abdomen

The abdomen contains the vital organs:

  • the digestive system
  • to a large extent the respiratory system
  • the reproductive system (for the queen)
  • the vulnating apparatus (the dart, the venom pouch and its mechanism) – only for queens and workers

and certain glands such as :

  • the wax glands
  • Nasanov’s gland
  • the alkaline gland

abdomen abeilleWe will probably make an entire article on the different pheromones, as the subject is so important and especially interesting to understand the world of bees.

The abdomen is formed of 7 segments, each segment is composed of a ventral and dorsal plate connected by membranes. They allow the extension of the abdomen when the bee gorges itself with nectar or water.

It is not necessary to know the anatomy of the bee in detail, but it is important to know the principles to better perceive how they interact with each other, how they move or how pheromones have an important, even vital value in the colony. We will come back later in detail on some aspects in other publications

In our next publication we will discuss the organization within the colony and the different castes that compose it.

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