Do Bees Have Lungs? How Do They Breathe?

A honey bee on a flower and an illustration of human lungs

Mammals rely on lungs for breathing, and it’s natural to assume that other living creatures like insects also have lungs. Bees indeed need to breathe to live, but how do they do it? In this article, we’ll look at the bee’s respiratory system. Does it have lungs or something else to respire effectively?

Does a bee have lungs?

Bees do not have a set of lungs to breathe. Instead, they have tracheal sacs throughout their body which assist with oxygen and carbon dioxide transfer. To get fresh air, the bee relaxes its abdomen and valves allow air to enter the spiracles. These are made up of ten pairs of holes found in the abdomen, thorax, and sting chamber.

Once fresh air enters the bee, it is distributed through the abdomen, thorax, and head via the tracheal system. To discard old air, the bee contracts its abdomen muscles and forces it from the tracheal sacs. The used air is finally released from the bee through the spiracles.

  • Bees do not have lungs, nostrils, or gills.
  • Air sacs are used to store oxygen.
  • Tube-like organs called tracheae pump air through the bee.
  • Spiracles use valves to regulate airflow in and out of the bee.
  • Unlike mammals, blood is not used to transfer oxygen.

How does a bee breathe?

The bee has a completely different respiratory system compared to humans. While we inhale and exhale air within seconds, a bee’s small body means it takes much longer to process the oxygen.

The following is an overview of how a bee breathes:

  1. A valve in each of a bee’s spiracles opens and vacuums in fresh air.
  2. Once inside the bee, air is transferred through tracheae arms into air sacs.
  3. Air sacs contract, forcing the air through tracheoles and into the bee’s tissue.
  4. As the bee breathes out, carbon dioxide is pumped back through the tracheoles and out the spiracles. During this stage, bees stop receiving additional air until it has the right balance of CO2 and O2.

What features help a bee to breathe?

Over time, bees have evolved to make breathing easier. Here are some of the adaptations to assist the bee with respiring.

  • Spiracle valves help to stop air backflow.
  • Muscles can be contracted as needed to speed up oxidation and enhance respiration.
  • The bee’s respiratory system is enlarged to allow rapid inward airflow and CO2 ventilation.
  • Air can only exit the first set of spiracles.

Do bees breathe like other insects?

Bees breathe in a similar way to other insects, using spiracles and tracheoles. Larger insects like grasshoppers have more spiracles and need to actively pulse their abdominals to breathe. Smaller insects like bees don’t usually have to move muscles.

Although bees and flies are a similar size, the fly can open its pores and wait for the air to float in and out. Its respiration system is a more passive version of the bee’s.

Commonly asked questions

Can bees breathe underwater and in the rain?

Although bees can’t breathe underwater, it’ll also take them a relatively long time to drown submerged in liquid. The valves in their spiracles can be closed to shut out water. As a result, bees will last underwater longer than a human, tapping into the oxygen housed in their air sacs.  

A bee can breathe in the rain by shutting its spiracles to keep out water, but it will usually avoid this situation. It won’t usually fly in the rain as the wind and water droplets can damage their delicate wings.

Do bees control their breathing?

Based on the environment, bees can adjust their breathing for maximum efficiency. During heightened activity, they can pump air through their tracheae for improved oxygen delivery. They can also close the air openings to shut out water and reduce water loss in hot weather.

Bee vs human – how does their breathing compare?

A bee passively allows air to stream into its body as needed. Oxygen works its way into every part of the bee’s body via the tracheae. Humans breathe oxygen into the lungs and rely on the heart to pump oxygen-carrying blood via a complex system of arteries and veins.  

Do bees breathe through their mouth?

Bees do not use their mouth to consume oxygen. Instead, they use a series of spiracles on their body to take in and expel air. 

Can bees suffocate?

Bees can die from suffocation and the most common reason this occurs is the use of pesticides. These chemicals cause the bee to close off the air vents responsible for oxygen intake and carbon dioxide emission. 

Summing up

Unlike mammals and spiders, bees do not have lungs as a part of their anatomy. They make use of tracheae, air sacs, and spiracles to breathe. The bee has a more passive respiratory system compared to a human’s that requires a heart to actively pump oxygenated blood through the body.

If you enjoyed learning about the circulatory system of a bee, you may want to check out the anatomy of a bee or how bees fly

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