If you are wondering whether a bee is an insect or not, you aren't alone. In many people's minds living things, excluding plants, fall into two categories, insects and animals. The highly intelligent and organized way bee colonies function makes them seem like more than a common insect. That said, flying creatures that “spit” honey don't seem very animal like. So, are bees insects or animals? Today we are going toget to the bottom of the mystery, as well as share a few interesting facts about bees with you, you may not have known. Our investigation begins with the process of elimination, identifying what an animal is, and if bees meet the criteria to be called animals.
What Is Considered An Animal?
Animals are abundant. Scientists believe between 9 or 10 million species of animals exist. However, since we have not identified all life, the estimates are rough. Animals can be a small as just a few cells, and as large as a blue whale. All animals are part of the same kingdom, Animalia, also known as Metazoa.
There are certain qualities all animals share:
- All animals are multicellular creatures
- All animals are heterotrophs. A heterotroph is a creature that relies on other organisms for nourishment-directly, or indirectly.
- All animals do not have ridged cell walls as is found in plants.
- All animals develop in distinct stages, e.g. zygote, blastula, gastrula and blastopore.
- All animals, except sponges, have cells that organize themselves into specialized tissues, and those tissues are further organized into organs.
There are other qualities that are overwhelmingly common in animals:
- Most animals eat their food and then digest it within an internal body cavity.
- Most animals can move rapidly and in complicated ways when compared to other, non-animal, living things.
- Most animals use sex for reproduction, and the differentiation of eggs and sperm is prominent.
- Most animals are also diploid in nature. Diploid refers to the adults having two copies of genetic material.
We admit, that is a lot to consider. However bees fit into many of those categories. Bees are multicellular creatures. They take in nourishment by eating rather than create it as plants do. Bees move both swiftly and in complicated ways. They do not have ridged cells and their bodies are soft and pliable. We also know, despite males being greatly outnumbered, bees reproduce using sex. In fact, bees meet most of the criteria for qualifying a creature as an animal.
That is because bees are animals. Problem solved, right? Maybe not… it is worth looking at what insects are too, just to be sure.
What Is Considered An Insect?
What is an insect? Are bees insects? The word “insect” is derived from a Latin word, insectum, which literally means “with a notched or divided body”. Insects make up the largest biomass of all the terrestrial creatures. Their numbers are staggering with about ten quintillion insects living on earth. Scientists have not identified them all, and yet there are still about 91,000 described species. They represent half of all life on Earth.
Insects have certain qualities they all share:
- Insects have a chitinous exoskeleton, making them invertebrates.
- Insect bodies are segmented into three parts. The parts include the head, thorax and abdomen.
- Insects have a total of six legs that are paired. Their legs are jointed.
- Insects have compound eyes
- Insects have one pair of antennae
- Insects molt to grow and have constrained development because of their skeletal structure.
Insects also share qualities that are not universal, but are overwhelmingly common amongst them:
- Almost all insects lay eggs and are hatched from them.
- Some insects have four-stage metamorphosis, including the pupal stage or three-stage metamorphosis, with a series of nymphal stages
- Most insects move by walking, flying, or swimming and their movements are often rapid and stable.
- Most insects are solitary, some are social.
- Most have external mouth parts.
Bees seem to fit into most of the criteria for the insect category too. They have compound eyes, antenna and an exoskeleton that keeps their size relatively small. They lay and hatch from eggs, have three pairs of legs and fly. Bees also undergo a three-stage metamorphosis. In fact, bees are insects, but are they not animals, too?
Are Bees Insects?
Are bees insects? This question might not sound serious, but the answer might be surprising. Bees are both animals and insects, let us explain how that is possible. There are six main Kingdoms of living things:
Bees are not plants, fungi or either of the bacteria, and thus they are animals. All insects are animals. Scientists estimate that 90 percent of all animal life on earth are insects. They are the largest and most diverse group of animals.
Within the animal kingdom animals are first divided by phyla. Bees are of the Arthropoda Phylum. The Arthropoda Phylum includes animals like crabs and lobsters, as well as millipedes, spiders and ticks.
Those animals are then divided by class. Bees are of the Insecta class. Insecta Class animals are singled out because they only have three pairs of legs, whilst the other Arthropoda have more than three pairs. Insecta also have three body segments, whilst other Arthropoda only have two, and other Arthropoda also never have wings.
Within Insecta, bees are part of the Hymenoptera Order and Apidae Family. It is estimated there are between 12 and 20 thousand species of bees. They all have four wings and only the females normally have a stinger. Most bees are rather antisocial and prefer to be alone. However, about 600 species are social, including the bumble bee and the honeybee.
All about Bees
Now that we've answered the question, “are bees insects,” let's move on to some general, but interesting information about bees. Honey bees fly up to 15 miles per hour, while less streamlined bees, such as bumble bees, move far more slowly. Bees produce honey by regurgitating dehydrating nectar. Species like honey bees store honey for use in colder months when foraging is slow or impossible, while species like bumble bees, who do not forage throughout winter, do not maintain excess nectar stores.
Most bees are passive animals unless you disturb them. That said, more aggressive species such as the Africanized honeybee, or “killer” bee, have helped fuel fears of bees being quick to sting. The reality is stinging comes at a great expense to the bee, and they are not fond of doing it.
Bees will typically bump into you to let you know you should leave them alone. If that does not work, they may sting you. However, doing so can cost them their life because their stingers are barbed, so it is normally not their first resort. The barbed stingers are not an issue when stinging other insects, whom they can sting multiple times.
That said, when stinging a human, or a fleshy animal like a bear, the barbs cause the stinger to get caught in the victims skin. Once the stinger is stuck, and the bee tries to fly away, death is imminent. Their tiny stomachs are ruptured when the stinger and venom sac rips off of their bodies.
Bees have multiple eyes. They have two large compound eyes and three small eyes. The compound eyes sit on the side of their head while the smaller eyes are located on the top of their head. Their eyes see in color and can discern light and motion. In fact, they can detect motion separated by only 1/300th of a second. To put that into perspective, consider humans only can detect motions separated by 1/50th of a second. Scientists believe the thousands of lenses on a bee's compound eyes probably cause them to have pixilated vision.
Another rather interesting feature of bee eyes is that they are hairy. There are tiny hairs that grow where the lenses of their compact eyes intersect. Scientists believe the hairs help bees maintain their course by detecting wind conditions.
Bees have a kind of “mouth”, but they do not breathe through it. Rather, they breathe through tiny holes on the sides of their thorax and abdomen. The holes are called spiracles.
Amazingly, each spiracle is lined with muscles. The muscles control the opening and closing of the holes and thus control breathing. The individual spiracles are attached to individual trachea, which arebasically tubes used for breathing.
Have you have ever seen bright yellow bumps on a bee's legs and wondered what they were? They are pollen baskets. On a bee's hind legs there are small transparent sacs made of hair. The stiff hairs curve along the flattest section of the bee's legs.
When collecting pollen, a bee scrapes pollen into the baskets by rubbing it against the stiff hairs. They go about the ritual until the bags are full, at which point they return to the hive. The baskets appear yellow because the color of the pollen shows through the transparent sacs. The pollen collected contains nutrients essential to the colony's health such as protein and lipids. They use the pollen to make bee bread. Bee bread is a combination of pollen, saliva and honey.
Our Final Thoughts
Now that we've answered the question, “are bees insects,” it's your turn to spread the incredible knowledge of bees. Bees are truly fascinating wonderful insects and animals. Surprisingly, they play a large role in our ecosystem. Without bees, food sources would be in serious trouble from the ground up. Although education is finally spreading, it's important we all understand the importance of these incredible insects.