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Anatomy Of A Honey Bee – Beginner’s Guide

The honey bee is a fascinating insect, equipped with a range of tools to help it perform different functions. This guide dives into the anatomy of a honeybee.

Skip ahead: The headThe ThoraxThe AbdomenInternal Parts

What are the main parts of a honey bee?

A honey bee is made up of an abdomen, thorax, and head that has eyes and two antennae. It also has two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs for movement. Like most insects, bees have a hard outer shell or exoskeleton.

A side profile illustration of a honey bee with the anatomy labeled.
A labeled diagram of the bee anatomy.

1. Head

The head of a honey bee is like its control center, gathering important information for making decisions. The head has anatomy to help with tasting, smelling, and seeing.


The honey bee has two sets of eyes. Compound eyes are the large ones that are hard to miss. They have thousands of small lenses or facets that take individual images. These are sent to the brain for processing into one large image.

Compound eyes allow polarized vision, allowing the bee to process information and navigate towards food sources.

Macro photo of bee eyes.
Closeup of the bee’s compound eyes.

Bees also have three simple eyes (ocelli) with a single lens that collects UV light. The ocelli eyes help detect light intensity and motion, aiding in flight stabilization and orientation.

When compound and simple eyes work together, they offer exceptional vision that makes sourcing food easier.

Learn more about how bees see here.


A bee’s jaws (mandibles) are built strong to protect its other mouthparts. Their primary use is for biting and cutting.

While worker bees rely on their mandibles for chomping wax, the queen and drones possess a pointed mandible that helps bite and cut.

Magnification of bee mouth parts.
Magnified bee mouthparts.

The labrum is a flap-like structure that serves as an upper lip, helping to guide food into the mouth. A maxilla pairs with appendages on either side of the mouth to aid feeding.

The labial palps are part of the lower lip (labium) and help feel and taste food.


Bees have a flexible tongue known as a proboscis that extends up to 0.25 inches (6.5mm). While this may sound short, it is significant relative to the bee’s size. This length allows efficient nectar collection and grooming.

A bee using its proboscis to collect nectar.
A honey bee using its proboscis to reach a flower’s nectar.


Two antennae protrude from the top of a bee’s head. Their sensory information is vital for the honey bee.

Odor reception, vibration, CO2 detection, and much more get processed using each antenna.

We recommend checking out our in-depth guide to bee antennae if you’d like to learn more.

Zoomed in photo of antennae on a bee's head.
Macro photo showing the bee’s antennae.

Mechanosensory hairs

Honey bee mechanosensory hairs are sensory structures found on the bodies of honey bees, particularly dense on their antennae. These hairs are sensitive to physical stimuli such as touch, air currents, and vibrations.

Mechanosensory hairs are crucial in navigation, foraging, and communication within the hive. They can detect changes in airflow to help bees orient themselves during flight.

2. Thorax

The bee’s thorax is part of the midsection and assists with movement. It has muscles that control two pairs of wings and six legs. Crawling and flying wouldn’t be possible without the thorax.


Two sets of wings allow the honey bee to fly through the air at 15 miles per hour. Drones have much longer wings and well-developed flight muscles to help chase down the queen during mating. They can fly up to 22 miles per hour.

A magnified bee wing.
A bee wing under a microscope.

A bee’s hind wings are much smaller than its fore wings, but both are necessary to fly. To help with lift-off, they slightly twist their wings into a propellor shape for improved aerodynamics. Their fast pulsating muscles create impressive wing-flapping speeds. Learn more about how a bee can fly here.


Honey bees are flexible and agile thanks to six pairs of legs, forelegs, middle legs, and hind legs. Each leg consists of a coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, tarsus, and tarsus claw.

A bee with a full corbicula (pollen basket).
A honey bee with a full pollen basket.

In addition to movement, the worker bee’s back legs have pollen baskets for storage during foraging missions. She can collect, pack, and carry propolis, nectar, and pollen back to the hive.

A honey bee’s front legs are purpose-built for antennae cleaning. They have a comb-like tool to make grooming easier.

Bee leg magnified on white background.
The leg of a bee under a microscope.

Honey bee legs also have sticky pads and claws (tarsus claws) to help land on uneven or slippery surfaces. The ends of their legs also house taste receptors.

Have you ever wondered if bees have knees? Check out our article to get fast answers.

3. Abdomen

The abdomen of a bee is the posterior part of its body, following the thorax. It contains vital parts of the bee’s digestive, respiratory, excretory, and reproductive systems.

The abdomen is segmented and its flexibility allows the bee to curve its body for stinging or laying eggs.


Honey bees use a stinger for defense against other insects and mammals. They will almost always die after stinging their victim. A barbed stinger can’t be removed as the bee moves away, so its body is torn apart.

  • A queen’s stinger is barbless, so she can reuse it without injury. In saying that, the queen rarely stings and mainly saves it for fighting other queens.
  • Drones don’t have a stinger.
  • Workers have a barbed stinger, which usually results in its death after use.
Bee stinger under magnification.
The bee’s stinger apparatus.

Wax glands

Worker bees possess glands under the abdomen that secrete four pairs of scales. It is released as a liquid that quickly hardens into a texture for hive building.

Young worker bees can produce roughly 16 scales in 24 hours. It takes a lot of bees to create a beehive – to make one gram of wax, 1000 scales are needed!

Internal parts of a honey bee

  • Brain: The honey bee’s inner head houses its brain, which is incredibly powerful for its size. It can process multiple data sets and stimuli simultaneously, allowing quick decision-making.
  • Esophagus: A muscular tube that transfers ingested items from the buccal cavity to the proventriculus.
  • Heart: Pumps hemolymph (insect blood) throughout the body in an open circulatory system.
  • Hindgut (including ileum, colon, rectum): Processes waste materials; the ileum absorbs nutrients, and the rectum reabsorbs water from waste before excretion.
  • Honey Stomach (Crop): A storage sac for nectar, allowing bees to transport nectar back to the hive to make honey.
  • Hypopharyngeal glands: Produce royal jelly, fed to all larvae initially and then exclusively to larvae destined to become queens.
  • Malpighian tubules: Like kidneys in vertebrates, excreting metabolic waste into the hindgut.
  • Midgut (ventriculus): The primary site of digestion, where nutrients are absorbed.Salivary glands: Produce saliva, which can help in food digestion, and also produce enzymes involved in honey production.
  • Reproductive organs: The drone has an appendage that hides out of sight until mating. These sexual organs are torn from the abdomen after their first use, killing the bee instantly. Female bees have ovaries that begin producing eggs from 1-2 weeks. The queen also has a spermatheca for collecting sperm during mating flights. This supply of sperm will allow the queen to fertilize eggs throughout her life.
  • Trachea and spiracles: Part of the respiratory system, spiracles are openings on the bee’s body that lead to trachea, allowing oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to exit.
A closeup of Apis mellifera isolated on white background.
Western honey bee side profile.

10 honey bee systems

  1. Digestive System: Processes food, primarily nectar and pollen, extracting nutrients and energy necessary for survival and honey production.
  2. Respiratory System: Facilitates gas exchange through a network of tracheae and air sacs, allowing the bee to breathe.
  3. Circulatory System: Consists of a simple heart and open blood cavity (hemocoel), circulating hemolymph (insect blood) to transport nutrients and waste.
  4. Nervous System: Controls movement, behavior, and physiological functions, including processing sensory information from the environment.
  5. Exocrine System: Includes glands that produce pheromones for communication, wax for building the hive, and royal jelly for feeding larvae and the queen.
  6. Reproductive System: In queens, eggs are produced; in drones, sperm is made for mating with the queen.
  7. Integumentary System: Comprises the exoskeleton and cuticle, providing protection and structural support and aiding in water retention.
  8. Sensory System: Includes compound eyes, ocelli (simple eyes), antennae, and mechanosensory hairs for vision, olfaction, and tactile sensation, crucial for navigation, foraging, and communication.
  9. Muscular System: Powers flight, movement within the hive, and manipulation of objects such as nectar, pollen, and hive construction materials.
  10. Immune System: Defends against pathogens and parasites through cellular and humoral responses.
Closeup of a bee head.
Zoomed up photo of a honey bee’s head.

Commonly asked questions

How many hearts does a bee have?

Honey bees have one heart that pumps blood to the rest of the body. They have an open circulatory system without the need for enclosed blood vessels. Instead, blood gets pumped into a cavity called a hemocoel.

How many eyes does a bee have?

A bee has five eyes in total, which provide excellent vision. They have two large compound eyes and three small ocelli eyes.

Do bees have teeth?

Although bees don’t have teeth, they have mandibles or jaws. These have rounded points for chewing cell cappings and beeswax.

Close up front on shot of bee
Bees have mandibles instead of teeth.

Further reading

Cariveau DP, Nayak GK, Bartomeus I, Zientek J, Ascher JS, Gibbs J, et al. (2016) The Allometry of Bee Proboscis Length and Its Uses in Ecology. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0151482. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0151482.

Ramirez-Esquivel F, Ravi S. Functional anatomy of the worker honeybee stinger (Apis mellifera). iScience. 2023 Jun 24;26(7):107103. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2023.107103. PMID: 37485367; PMCID: PMC10359947. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10359947/.

Nabawy Mostafa R. A. and Crowther William J. 2017 The role of the leading edge vortex in lift augmentation of steadily revolving wings: a change in perspective J. R. Soc. Interface.142017015920170159 http://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2017.0159.

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