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Anotomy of Honey Bee

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The honeybee has been one of the most useful insects known to man, as well as other forms of life. It's been able to do so because of special organs endowed by nature enabling it to live a particular way of life. Let's try to understand this beautiful creature by studying its anatomical structure giving it, and it alone, ability to perform complex functions; gathering and ripening nectar, collecting pollen and propolis, producing wax, etc., and incidentally fertilizing flowering plants.

Just like other insects, the honeybee has three main parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Each section serves its purpose and supports the functions of the attached body parts.

  • Head featuring eyes, antennae, mandibles, and brain
  • Thorax is base for legs and wings
  • The abdomen contains stinger, wax glands, and reproductive organs

All these form honeybee’s external skeleton- covered in a layer of hair to aid the bee in gathering pollen and regulating body temperature.

1. HEAD

Triangular in shape, five eyes, pair of antennae, and mouthparts consisting of two mandibles, the proboscis, etc.

a) The eyes: The seeing apparatus of the bee consists of a pair of compound eyes and three small simple eyes, called the ocelli. The compound eyes are composed of several thousands of simple light-sensitive cells, called ommatidia, which enable the bee to distinguish light and color and to detect directional information from the sun's ultraviolet rays. The eyes of the drone are larger by far than those of the worker or the queen bee, occupying a large proportion of the total volume of the head. They assist him to locate the queen as he pursues her during the mating flight.

b) The antennae are a pair of sensitive receptors whose base is situated in the small socket-like membraneous areas of the headwall. They move freely in every direction. The antennae's functions are to feel or touch and to smell, and thus to guide the bee outside and inside the hive, to differentiate floral and pheromone odors, and to locate hive intruders.

c) The mandibles are a pair of jaws suspended from the head and parts of the bee's mouth. The insect uses them to chew wood when redesigning the hive entrance, to chew pollen and to work wax for comb-building. They also permit any activity requiring a pair of grasping instruments.

d) The proboscis: The proboscis of a honeybee is not a permanent functional organ; it is improvised temporarily by assembling parts of the maxillae and the labium to produce a unique tube for drawing up liquids such as sweet juices, nectar, water, and honey. The insect releases it when needed for use, then withdraws and folds it back beneath the head when it is not needed.

Antennae: Located on the head form a sensory powerhouse, providing a function for a bee’s sense of touch, smell, taste and even a unique form of hearing. Males have 13 segments while females have 12, making up each antenna with an elbow-like “joint”. It also features mechanoreceptors for the sense of touch and hearing which's the surprise of scientists. Previously it was considered that sound is merely vibration at frequencies we happen to detect with our ears. If any creature has a way to detect vibrations, through any mechanism, it can “hear”.

The mechanoreceptors on the bee’s antennae respond to the movement of air particles, at frequencies associated with sound. So, through a different principle to our ears - and because bees would look somewhat silly with ears - bees are, in fact, able to detect sound!

Eyes: The three simple eyes called ocelli (singular: ocellus) of the honeybee have a single lens, which collects UV light. The UV light allows the bee to see the location of pollen as a dark spot, so they know where to land. In conjunction with their compound eyes, the bee’s UV polarized vision is the perfect tool for the location of food sources. Honey bees have two compound eyes that make a large part of the head surface. Each compound eye is composed of individual cells (ommatidium, plural ommatidia). Each ommatidium is composed of many cells, usually including light focusing elements (lens and cones), and light-sensing cells (retinal cells). Workers have about 4,000-6,000 ommatidia but drones have more 7,000-8,600, presumably because drones need better visual ability during mating. Bee's eyes are not designed to see high-resolution images like our eyes do, but rather they see a mosaic image but are better than us for motion detection.

Proboscis: Its another name for the tongue of a bee. It is like the human tongue, in that it is soft and can be extended. Relative to the size of the average honey bee, the proboscis is long, a result of evolution helping the bee to reach the center of a flower to collect nectar. The proboscis is also used to clean their hairs or to groom one another, especially the queen.

Mandibles: Mandibles are the honey bee’s incredibly strong jaws that protect the rest of the mouthparts. The mouthparts consist of a tongue and other complicated organs that collect nectar from flowers. It differs from worker bee to the queen and her drones. The queen and drones have pointed mandibles to aid in cutting and biting, but worker bee’s mandibles are smoothed to aid in the production of wax.

Brain: It's made up of a series of lobes. There are also glands inside of the head that produce secretions from the mouth, used in the creation of wax and royal jelly (a substance made by worker bees to feed larvae).

Mouthparts: They are having combined mouthparts than can both chew and suck. This is accomplished by having both mandibles and a proboscis. First are paired “teeth” that can be open and closed to chew wood, manipulate wax, cleaning other bees, and biting other workers or pests (mites), whereas later ones are mainly used for sucking in liquids such as nectar, water, and honey inside the hive, for exchanging food with other bees (trophallaxis), and also for removing water from nectar. The workers can put a droplet of nectar between the proboscis and the rest of the mouthparts to increase the surface area, and slowly moving the proboscis back and forth.

2. THORAX

This armor-plated mid-section supports two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs, and carries the locomotor, or "engine", and the muscles that control the movement of the head, the abdomen, and the wings.

Legs: Each pair of legs differs in size and shape from the other two pairs and is joined into six segments, with a pair of claws at the tip which helps the insect to cling to surfaces. Its primary function is to help the bee to walk and run, but various parts also serve special purposes other than locomotion. The same tarsi of the mid-legs serve as brushes for cleaning the thorax, while the spines found at the end of the fourth sections (tibiae) are used for removing the pellets of pollen and for cleaning the wings. Two important parts on the legs are antenna cleaners on front legs and pollen baskets on hind legs.

i) The antenna cleaner, located on the inner margin of the tibia of the forelegs, consists of a deeply-cut semi-circular notch, equipped with a comb-like row of small spines.

ii) Pollen baskets: The tibiae of the hind legs of the worker bee carry a special apparatus, called the corbiculae, or pollen baskets, which enables her to carry pollen into the hive. These pollen baskets, concave in shape, are surrounded with several long hairs which bind the contents into an almost solid mass, allowing the worker to carry the load safely home.

Wings: The wings are thin, flat and two-layered. The front pair is much longer than the rear. The worker's wings are used both for flight and for ventilating the hive, while the drone and the queen use theirs for flight only.

3. ABDOMEN

The abdomen is armor-plated like thorax. It contains vital parts like the heart, the honey sac, the stomach, the intestines, the reproductive organ, and the sting.

Reproductive Organs: In queen bees, the abdomen features the spermatheca, which is used to store sperm collected during her mating flights and when laying, as she fertilizes eggs. The ovaries of the queen will mature and begin producing eggs between the age of 1-2 weeks and she will continue to lay eggs until her death. Whereas drones sexual organ is a “use once” device! After the drone mates, his sexual organs are ripped from him, which causes his death.

Wax Glands: For worker bees, four pairs of wax-producing scales exist on the underside of the abdomen. These secrete liquefied wax, which hardens into thin scales when exposed to air. The task of creating wax within a hive is left to young worker bees. Workers can create around 8 scales in 12 hours.

Stings: It is a firstly consider component of the honey bee and only true line of defense. Honey bees will sting only as a last resort when threatened because once they have used their stinger they typically die.

The stinger differs across worker, queen, and drone as follows:

  • Worker: The stinger is barbed, and once inserted into human skin will be torn away as the bee struggles to free herself.
  • Queen: A queen’s stinger has no barb and she can, therefore, sting repeatedly without losing it.
  • Drone: Nothing to worry about with drones - they have no stinger!

4. INTERNAL ORGANS

These parts including the hypopharyngeal gland, the wax gland, the scent or pheromone glands, the queen's pheromone glands, and sting with passion gland make honey bee capable of producing honey and wax along with performing other duties necessary for its survival. Their functions are:

a) The hypopharyngeal gland is located in the front of the brain. It starts to mature three days after the bee's emergence and develops only when the insect secretes royal jelly to feed the young larvae and the queen.

b) The wax gland, located in the lower part of the young worker's abdomen, releases wax between a series of four overlapping plates, called sterna, below the abdomen. The worker begins to secrete wax 12 days after emerging; six days later, the gland degenerates and the worker stops comb-building.

c) Scent glands: The worker bee produces three main scents. The gland beneath the sting produces a special pheromone consisting mainly of isopentyl acetate, which sprays around the spot of the sting. The odor stimulates other workers to pursue and sting the victim. A second alarm pheromone, released by glands at the base of the mandibles, has the same function. A third gland, located near the rear of the abdomen, produces a pheromone which, when released by scout bees, attracts swarms of other bees to move toward them.

d) Queen's pheromone glands: In the queen bee's mandibles are located special glands which produce and release pheromones called the queen substances, which enable her to identify members of the colony, to inhibit ovary development in worker bees, to prevent the workers from building queen cells, to help a swarm or colony to move as a cohesive unit, and to attract drones during mating flights. The absence of the queen substance (e.g. when the queen dies) produces opposite responses, i.e. worker bees begin to develop ovaries and to build queen cells, and a swarm searching for accommodation will not cluster but will divide into smaller groups that cannot support the normal life of a bee colony.

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