Honeybees are insects and have many traits common to all insects. Their bodies consist of a head, thorax, and abdomen. They are covered with a hard exoskeleton, breathe through trachea instead of lungs, have six legs, and an open circulatory system without veins and arteries.
There are several specific adaptations that help the honeybee complete the tasks of making honey and supporting hive life.
- Eyes: Bees have five eyes, three simple and two compound. The simple eyes gauge the intensity of light. The compound eyes perceive color, light, and the position of the sun. Their visual range includes violet, blue, blue-green, yellow, and ultraviolet light. Many plain white flowers actually have ultraviolet markings on their petals to attract pollinators.
- Antennae: Bees use their antennae to feel and smell the world around them. They can smell hive scents, floral odors, and pheromones. Without antennae the bee cannot negotiate its surroundings and would soon die.
- Wax Glands: Young bees secrete wax from glands on the underside of their abdomen. They rework the wax flakes with their jaws to build honeycomb.
- Pollen Combs and Baskets: On the inside of their back legs bees have specialized hairs called pollen combs. Pollen is collected by the bees and mixed with a bit of liquid from their honey stomachs to make it stick together. They then rake the pollen with their pollen combs into a special depression on their hind legs called a pollen basket. When the baskets are full it’s time for a trip back to the hive to unload.
- Honey Stomach: Bees have a special, expandable stomach where they store nectar, honeydew, and water. Beneficial bacteria and enzymes are mixed with the liquid, which is then regurgitated to hive bees, who place it in a cell to ripen into honey.
- Stinger: Only female bees have a stinger. The queen stinger is smooth and can be used multiple times, usually against rival queens. Worker bees have a barbed stinger with a venom unique to honeybees. Worker bees drive the barb into their victim’s skin and fly away, leaving the stinger and attached venom sac behind to continue pumping venom into the wound. Alarm pheromones are released, guiding even more bees to attack the site of the original sting.