So, How Many Legs Do Bees Have?

You’ve probably heard the old argument about insects and arthropods, and the number of legs that they have. But then again, there are some radical exceptions in each category.

close-up bee legs on a flower

As most of us know, most insects typically have six legs. Most, but not all. How about bees? How many legs do bees have?

Bees have six legs. They have one pair of forelegs, one pair of midlegs and one pair of hind legs. Bees use their legs for locomotion when on the ground and also for many other purposes.

Bees are a classic insect that has the expected six legs spread across three pairs. This is not exciting news, of course, but what is exciting is learning everything that bees use their legs for.

I can tell you right now that they use them for a lot more than just walking, so keep reading and I’ll tell you more…

But It Looks Like Bees Have Eight Legs

If you look closely at a bee, you might see what think are eight legs sticking out from its body, not including the four wings.

This is an illusion, because what you perceive to be a pair of tiny, thin legs protruding near the head is actually their antenna.

Bees will typically constantly tap the ground and their surroundings with their antenna to gather information and also to communicate, so at a glance, it might look like a bee on the ground is scuttling along on eight legs.

An easy mistake to make, but in actuality, bees only have six legs, anatomically.

How are the Legs of Bees Arranged?

Bees have six legs spread across three pairs. This means they have two forelegs, two midlegs, and two hind legs.

The hind legs are furthest to the rear while the forelegs our closest to the head, and the mid-legs, of course, are in between.

Notably, the forelegs and mid legs seem to protrude from the thorax, or midsection of the bee while the hind legs appear to emerge from the waist between the thorax and abdomen.

Bees Use Their Legs for Many Different Purposes

This is one of the most fascinating parts of bee anatomy that concerns the legs specifically.

Bees use their legs for all sorts of different purposes, not just walking while they’re on the ground, or for climbing which they can of course do.

One of the most important functions of a bee’s legs and the hind legs specifically is for the gathering of pollen.

Honeybees, and some other bee species like bumble bees have specially adapted hairs growing on their hind legs that basically act as baskets to gather up pollen particles from the plants that they visit.

This adaptation allows them to carry a significant quantity of pollen back to their nest. Other specialized hairs located on the other legs help the bees manipulate the pollen when it is time to remove it.

And that isn’t all. Speaking of hairs, certain bee species have specialty hairs on their forelegs that they use to taste pollen, nectar and honey, with these hairs working in conjunction with the bee’s tongue as a sort of composite sensory apparatus.

Bees also use their forelegs as combs to help keep their five eyes, antenna, and mouth parts clean; the same way we use a brush!

A bee’s legs are also highly sensitive to vibration, and in essence, bees hear sounds around them by detecting vibrations through their legs and feet.

This is part of the reason why the nearby rumbling of power the lawn equipment seems to agitate bees and other swarming insects!

And a bee’s legs also help it to communicate by enabling it to wiggle, sway and dance, all movements which make up bee language, if you will.

If a bee cannot make these subtle movements it will be unable to effectively communicate and relay information to other bees in the hive.

Lastly, bees can use their legs in conjunction with their mouth parts as manipulators, in the same way that we use our hands.

Bees use their legs to gather food or other materials that need to be moved and to manipulate wax and propolis when building, expanding or repairing the hive.

Do Bees Have Feet?

Yes, they do. Bees have leg structures that most of us would recognize, including a femur and tibia, and recognizable joints for articulation.

Bees also, naturally, have feet composed of various tarsal and metatarsal segments forming the foot section as a whole.

Bees walk with their feet in contact with whatever surface they are currently on, and their feet are adapted to help them grip most materials while also gathering information about the surface itself and their surroundings.

Do Bees Have Toes?

Yes, they sure do, although they aren’t really toes as we understand them. Instead of toes, these have two lengthy, gently curving and sharp claws at the end of each foot, referred to as tarsal claws.

These claws are not weapons, but are used to help the bee cling to virtually any surface that they can reach.

Even on seemingly smooth surfaces, bees are able to hold fast because these tiny, sharp claws enable them to dig in to the subtlest of little nooks, crannies, and variations in surface texture that are nearly invisible to the human eye.

Many insects and arthropods have these tarsal claws for the same purpose, and though some creatures are better climbers than others, tarsal claws always help.

Can a Bee Survive with Missing Legs?

A bee can survive with perhaps one missing leg, and because of the important roles that the front and rear legs play in a bee’s life, it had better be a middle leg if they are going to keep on functioning.

Even though the loss of the leg itself might be survivable for the bee, losing a rear leg is going to severely hamper a worker bee’s ability to perform its primary job which is gathering pollen and nectar.

Losing both hind legs means the bee is effectively lame.

Likewise, losing a front leg will rob a bee of a considerable amount of its sensory capability, and also hamper its ability to dance and wiggle and communicate with other bees.

This loss of sensory and communicative capability will gradually increase, too, because the front leg houses the specialized hairs in a little notch that is used to clean off the bee’s antenna.

Without adequate care and cleaning, the antenna will begin to degrade and lose sensory capability.

In contrast, losing a middle leg is certainly problematic, but bees really only use their middle legs for movement and stability alone.

The loss of a single middle leg represents only about a 16.5% reduction in overall motive capability, meaning that a bee can still fly and do its job (although the efficacy of its dances and wiggles might be impacted somewhat).

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