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What Are Honey Bees? A Beginner’s Guide To The Honey Bee

Commercial Queen Bee Production
Bees are pollinating insects that feed on flower nectar and pollen. There are around 20,000 distinct bee species around the globe. There are just eight species of honey bees, none of which are endemic to North America.

Honey bees are flying insects that reside in colonies, which have intricate social structures. They use the wax comb to rear their young and store food in their nests. Male and female adult bees exist. There are two types of female bees: queens and workers. Honey bees distribute labor and work together for the colony's benefit.

Humans have tamed certain bees that generate extra honey for harvesting, while other bees and animals do as well.

The western, or European, honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common honey bee kept by beekeepers in Europe and the Americas. The eastern, or Asian, the honey bee is the other main domesticated honey bee (Apis cerana).

Beginning beekeepers might use this page as a guide to western honey bees.

Concerning Bees

"There are over 20,000 recognized bee species in the globe, and 4,000 of them are native to the United States," according to the US Department of the Interior. They vary in size from the world's tiniest bee, Perdita minima (2 mm), to carpenter bee species the size of kumquats."

"About 10% of global bee variety" is found in Europe, despite the region accounting for just 7% of global terrestrial habitats.

There are no native honey bee species in North America. They were first brought to the United States from Europe in the 17th century. Honey bees are increasingly used to pollinate a variety of crops in the United States, including fruits and nuts. One honey bee colony may collect roughly 40 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar in a single year.

A "approximately 14-million-year-old fossil recovered in Nevada preserves what's certainly a member of the honeybee, or Apis, genus..." was discovered in 2009. Apis nearctica is the scientific name for a honey bee that no longer exists.

What Are Honey Bees and What Do They Do?

Honey bees are flying insects that form "eusocial" social groups. Wasps and ants are examples of eusocial insects.

Through a reproductive division of labor, generation overlap, and colonial nesting, eusociality is defined as cooperative behavior among members of the same species.

Diverse bee species have different social structures. Mason bees, for example, are solitary, unlike honey bees.

Individual honey bees execute particular responsibilities as eusocial insects. The colony, on the other hand, operates as a single organism while performing these activities. As a result, a honey bee colony is often described as a superorganism.

Before emerging as a male or female adult, honey bees go through three phases of development: egg, larva, and pupa.

Find out more! For further information on the phases of development of a honey bee, see this article on the honey bee life cycle.

Honey Bee Anatomy | What Does A Honey Bee Look Like?

Honey bees have six legs and three unique bodily parts (head, thorax, and abdomen).

Honey bees have a hard exterior body called an exoskeleton. The bee's internal body components are supported (and protected) by the exoskeleton.

The exoskeleton is covered with branched hairs and ordinary body hair. Pollen is easily trapped by branched hairs, as demonstrated in the figure below. Hairs also give sensory input, assist in temperature regulation, and help keep the exoskeleton clean.

The Head of a Honey Bee

The principal sensory organs of a bee, such as the eyes, antennae, and mouthparts, are located on the head.

Honey bees have five eyes on their heads.

Simple eyes consist of three little eyes known as ocelli. Their precise function is uncertain, however, they operate as light detectors, assisting bees in "maintaining stability and navigation." 

There are about 7,000 facets in every two compound eyes. These features combine to provide a mosaic-like image of the environment that changes as the bee travels.

Bees sense color in the same way as humans do, but on a distinct spectrum that includes ultraviolet light.

Two antennae are located on the front of the bee's head.

Multiple segments of each antenna are coated with sensory components. The main organs of touch and smell for bees are the antennae. Because bees communicate through chemical pheromones, the sense of smell is essential.

The mouthparts of the honey bees are arranged in a complicated structure at the bottom of the bee's head. Sucking liquids, manipulating wax, tasting, smelling, and touching are all done via mouthparts.

Thorax of a Honey Bee

The thorax is the main portion of a honey bee's body that allows it to move about.

The thorax is divided into three portions, each with two legs. Grooming, transferring wax, and conveying pollen are all done using hairy legs. Pollen baskets are built into the back legs of worker bees.

The thorax has two parts, each with a pair of wings.

The Abdomen of a Honey Bee

The abdomen is the honey bee's third body section. The bee's breathing system is connected to the abdomen via apertures. Various internal activities, such as digestion, are aided by moving the abdomen.

The abdomen of queen bees is longer and thinner than that of drones and workers, which distinguishes them.

Queens and workers both have stingers at the end of their abdomens. Drones do not have a stinger. Honey bees are categorized as stinging bees since drones make up a minor part of the colony.

Adult Honey Bees Are Divided Into Three Types

A honey bee colony has three sorts of adults: a queen, workers, and drones.

Drones are the males.

Female honey bees are divided into two "castes": queen bees and worker bees.

Drones are sometimes referred to as a caste, and honey bees are divided into three castes.

"In social insects, the word caste refers to individuals of the same sex that vary in morphology (shape and function), physiology, and behavior." Drones...do not belong to a caste since they all have the same morphology and behavior."

Female queens and workers are created from fertilized eggs. Drones are born from unfertilized eggs and are male. 

bee queens 

Honey bee queens share reproductive work across the female castes of honey bees. In most colonies, there is just one queen who is in charge of producing eggs. Thousands of eggs may be laid every day by a fertile queen.

Queens use pheromones (queen substances) to affect the behavior of the colony in addition to egg-laying.

If a colony believes a new queen is required, it chooses certain female larvae to be fed a special diet. As a result, some females grow into queens rather than worker bees.

For control of the hive, queens will battle to the death. As a consequence, the majority of colonies have just one queen.


Bees, especially honey bees, are intriguing creatures. A colony working cooperatively seeks to ensure the colony's existence and the survival of the species.

Our role as beekeepers is to aid honey bees while causing the least amount of interruption to their operations.

We can take advantage of all the bees have to offer by doing so.