Honeybees Have 6 Legs
The honeybee has three pairs of segmented legs: front, middle, and back.
Honeybees do amazing things with their legs -- like walking, tasting, and hearing vibrations.
Although the 6 legs of the bee are primarily used for walking and running when the bee is not flying, honeybee legs have specialized areas such as pollen baskets on hind legs and antennae cleaners on forelegs. They use their different pairs of legs for different tasks.
First, the anatomy. There are several segments. The coxa is closest to the body, then the trochanter, and the third segment is the femur, like a thigh. Bees do have knees! Although not precisely the way humans think of knees. It is where the femur joins the tibia, after which comes the basitarus and tarus, or the foot.
For instance, the front legs are used like human arms and hands, for grooming their antennae, and to reach out and take something “in hand.” They also groom each other. On the front legs of honeybees there are special ‘antennae cleaners’ to keep their super important antennae ultra clean.
Grooming is very important to bees, as they live in such close contact with each other. Grooming helps reduce the chances of infections, removes mites, unclogs hairs, wipes away bacteria from soil, and a host of other potential hazards.
This unrelated 5:48-minute video by Understanding Bee Anatomy is another excellent presentation by Ian Stell, and goes into great detail about the bee leg structure:
Grabbing parts of flowers like the anthers with their front hands to shake pollen lose is an everyday undertaking.
An amazing use honeybees have for their front feet is to taste! There are taste buds in their little feet. In all, they taste with their front feet, their tongues and jaws, and their antennae, where there are over 300 taste sensors on the antennae tips.
As if that is not wild enough a concept, bees also hear with their legs. It is scientifically proven that sound vibrations are picked up by the organs in a honeybee’s legs. These are called subgenual organs.
On female social bees, between the two largest segments of the hind legs is what is known as a pollen press. After pollen is gathered, it is passed there to press the pollen into pellets.
Pollen baskets are also called corbicula or corbiculae (pl) and these are used to transport propolis and pollen to the hive.
The pollen baskets are on their hind legs, and this makes much more sense, as it is then out of the way and the bee is not hampered by having that added bulk front and center. Pollen baskets are a bee specialty.
A fringe of long curved hairs called a floccus holds the pollen in place in this smooth, slightly concave surface of the outer hind leg. This is especially so with female solitary bees, such as some mining bees.
There are structures on the legs, too, much like a pollen brush of sorts. These are called rakes and combs, and they collect and remove pollen that sticks to the honeybee’s hairy body once the bee is back at the hive and wants to divest herself of her collection from her foraging trip.
When honeybees and bumblebees build their nests, they use their legs to help construct with wax. Ground nesting bees even have a paint brush, or penicillus, on their hind legs, for applying lining to cell walls in their burrows. Carder bees also use their legs and feet to gather nest building materials.
As can bee seen in this post, bees put all six legs to extra good use.
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