A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: March Meeting

This Monday just gone was the last of Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers Association  winter meetings and was titled Apis Through The Looking Glass. We were shown a in depth presentation with slides of honey bees through a high powered microscope. The guy holding the meeting was called Graham and he has a book available at amazon.co.uk also called Apis Through The Looking Glass, which contains the photos featured in the presentation. The presentation was very detailed so I will just go over the basics and what I can remember.

Bees are insects so are made up of three sections; the head, the thorax and the abdomen. On their head they have two antennae, five eyes, a set of mandibles and a proboscis. Their heads are also mostly covered in hairs, including the two main compound eyes (yes, bees have hairy eyes!!). The thorax has the two sets of wings and six legs. The abdomen contains the bees honey stomach along with other internal organs and the sting. In the presentation these were all shown in very close up photos. I have included Wikipedia links for various parts for if you want to read more.


  • The antennae of bees contain many senses which the bees use to detect vibrations, smells and temperature among other things. It is made up of several sections but the male drone has one more segment, believed to be used to help locate Queens on their mating flight.
  • Bees have two kinds of eyes; the compound eye and the ocelli. The two compound eyes are made up of  hundreds of segments which gives them a pixelated view of the world, the male drones have much larger eyes that almost wrap all the way around their head, again they are for helping to locate Queens. The three ocelli are situated on the top of the head and are arranged in a triangle, they are thought to be used to help the bee stay upright and straight when flying.
  • The mandibles are the mouth parts of the bee and are used to chew up the wax scales and build comb. 
  • The proboscis is the bees tongue and is used to suck up nectar from flowers. 


  • The larger of the sets of bees wings don't actually physically attach to the muscles that drive them. There are two muscles in the thorax that drive the wings by stretching and contracting the thorax vertically and horizontally, this in turn causes the thorax to push the wing making them beat. The smaller wing has got hooks that connect it to the larger wing when in flight so the aforementioned method that drives the large wing also drives the small one in turn. 
  • The bees legs have two other functions, other than the ability to walk! The first is located on the front legs and is a small nook in the inner elbow that is used to clean the antennae; it works by wrapping around the antennae so they can be scrapped clean prior to flying. The other main function is the  pollen basket; this a hairy area of the back leg that collects pollen, the bee does this by first covering itself in pollen and then brushes the pollen towards its back legs. Then with the aid of a small amount of nectar the bee squeezes the collected pollen through it's "knees" into the pollen basket.


  • The honey stomach is located just in the abdomen, prior to the main stomach and is where nectar or honey is stored when travelling from one place to another. It is similar to the crop in birds. It has the ability to stretch to fill a larger area of the abdomen so in summer months when there is plenty of nectar it will usually be bigger than in the winter when there is no new nectar coming into the hive. When a bee returns to the hive it brings the nectar back up and passes it to other bees in the hive for them to in turn take it to be stored as honey.
  • The rectum is in the abdomen and has similarities to the honey stomach but in reverse. In the winter months, when it is too cold to leave the hive, the bee can store excrement in it's rectum stretching it to occupy most of the abdomen. In the summer the bee is outside a lot more and able to deposit it's droppings outside on a much more regular basis so there isn't as much need for a large rectum. 
  • The sting is located at the end of the abdomen and is the part most people are aware of when in close proximity to bees! Bees have a venom sack connected to the sting that is pulled out of the honey bee when it stings you, killing the bee in the process. The venom only develops after a few days so a newly hatched bee is very unlikely to sting you and has less chance of it causing any damage. The sting of a bee is made of two main rods with barbed ends that move back and forth in opposite directions, thus causing them to dig deeper and administer more venom.

There were other parts included in the presentation including the reproductive system but I don't remember enough to do it any justice if I was to try to write it up. In the future I may learn more and also have access to pictures to show the various parts in greater detail and if so I will do a more detailed post.