Do bees have kidneys? An interesting question. In order to answer the question, we must first understand what kidneys are, what they do, and where they are found.
Kidneys are organs found in vertebrates. In vertebrates, they fulfil a number of roles:
Bees are insect invertebrates, and do not have kidneys. However, they have an internal system which performs the role of kidneys.
This system is called the Malpighian tubule system. This system fulfils both excretory and water regulatory functions for bees.
You may have seen the page on this website about bee hearts.
If you have, you will know that, like all insects, bees have a body cavity containing a substance known as hemolymph, within which are their organs.
The Malpighian system is a system of highly convoluted tubules that is found within the abdomen of bees. The tubules are bathed in the hemolymph and connect into the bees’ alimentary canal.
Waste products and electrolytes (urea, amino acids, potassium, sodium) pass from the hemolymph into the tubules along with water.
This ‘pre-urine’ passes down the tubules into the alimentary canal, where it merges with digested food. Uric acid precipitates out, while potassium and sodium are reabsorbed along with water.
The uric acid continues along the alimentary canal and is then excreted in the faeces (bee poop). So, the uric acid excretion is a similar function to the passing of urine in mammals, while the passage of electrolytes and water into the tubules together with their appropriate reabsorption later is the bees’ water balance function.
In honey bee larvae, the number of tubules is 4, whereas in adults there are 100 tubules1.
The simple answer to this question is – no!
It has been observed (for example, in Barbosa-Costa et al1 that not only are the number of Malpighian tubules in larvae and adult bees is variable, it also varies between species.
Barbosa-Costa et al found that in stingless bee species, the number of Malpighian tubules varies considerably: some groups have four to eight tubules in the larvae and seventy to ninety in adults; while other groups have four tubules in larvae and only twenty to forty tubules in adult bees.
1. Barbosa-Costa, K., Kerr, W.E. & Carvalho-Zilse, G.A. Number of Malpighian Tubules in Larvae and Adults of Stingless Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) from Amazonia. Neotrop Entomol 41, 42–45 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13744-011-0017-5
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