Is A Bee An Insect?
What Is A Bee?  

Updated: 7th February 2021



Is a bee an insect? ... and other questions....

What is a bee exactly? 

  • Is a bee an insect or a bug, and how do insects and bugs differ from each other?  
  • Are bees a type of fly or even wasp?   
  • Are bees invertebrates?
  • Do bees belong to the animal kingdom?  
  • Given that bees are furry, are they also mammals?


These are fair questions from anyone wishing to learn all about bees.

Firstly, the short answers are as follows:

Q. Is a bee an insect?
A. Yes.  Bees share insect characteristics including having 2 pairs or wings and 6 legs.  More detail below.

Q. Is a bee a bug, fly or wasp?
A. No, although both bees, flies, wasps and bugs are insects, they share a number of different physical characteristics, although wasps are very closely related to bees.  You can read more about this below.

Q. Are bees invertebrates? 
A. Yes, bees have no internal backbone and so are invertebrates (members of the animal kingdom that have no backbone).

Q. Is a bee an animal?
A. Yes, in so far as bees are part of the Animal Kingdom along with other invertebrates and vertebrates.

Q. Are bees mammals?
A. No. Despite having hair, bees are cold-blooded invertebrates that lay eggs.  Mammals are always warm-blooded vertebrates that give birth to live young.


a bumble bee on pink hemp agrimony.Is a bee an insect? ....and similar questions. Above: a bumble bee on hemp agrimony.

Read on for a more detailed explanation:

Is a bee an animal?  


Yes, bees are animals in that bees, like all invertebrates, are part of the Animal Kingdom. 

To explain further, all living things are classified into groups based on shared characteristics, which are then subdivided multiple times into even smaller groups based on even more features that they share in common.  

In this way, living organisms from bacteria and fungi to plants and trees, insects, fish, birds, large and small animals are put into yet smaller clusters with individual species that are increasingly similar in the physical features they share. 

The first (or top) layer of groups are called ‘kingdoms’ and all living things are further classified from these.   As well as kingdoms for plants, bacteria and fungi, we have the Animal Kingdom, which includes vertebrates and invertebrates.

Ashy mining bee foraging on dandelion.Ashy mining bee foraging on dandelion.

Are bees also mammals?

Although bees have hairs on their bodies as mammals do, and are part of the animal kingdom, bees are not mammals. 

Mammals are warm-blooded vertebrates with mammary glands for feeding milk to their young.  Bees are cold-blooded invertebrates and provision their larvae with food  - usually a combination of nectar and pollen.

What Makes A Bee An Insect?

honey bee on pale pink rose flower


An insect is an invertebrate (animal without an internal  backbone), and insects have:

  • a body in 3 parts: head, thorax and abdomen.  
  • a pair of antennae, 
  • 3 pairs of jointed legs and 
  • compound eyes. 

A bee has all of these features, and is an insect.  You can contrast this with say, a spider, which is not an insect but an arachnid, having 8 legs (4 pairs), no antennae, and 2 body parts (a head and thorax which are merged into one body part,  and the abdomen).

Why is a bee a not bug?

comic drawing of a box labelled 'hymenoptera' with smaller boxes, each with a label of either bees, wasps, hornets, sawflies and ants.Bees belong to the same insect order as wasps, hornets, sawflies and ants - i.e. Hymenoptera.

Although a bee is an insect, it is not a bug.  Bugs are types of insects, that have piercing mouth parts for sucking juices either from other insects, animals or plants.   

Bees belong to the insect order Hymenoptera, where as bugs belong to the insect order Hemiptera, meaning 'half wing' and refers to the fact that part of the first pair of wings in bugs is toughened and hard.   

Bees share the same insect classification (hymenoptera) with wasps, ants, sawflies and also hornets.

It's worth noting that whilst all bugs are insects, not all insects are bugs.

Is a bee a type of fly?

A Conopid fly which is a parasite of bees.  It's a small black fly with a wasp waist and arched abdomen.  Here' it's resting on pink hemp agrimony flower.A Conopid fly which is a parasite of bees.

No, although bees and flies are insects, flies belong to the insect order Diptera

Flies have 1 pair of wings (bees have 2 pairs of wings). Their mouth parts are for piercing or sucking.  As explained above, bees belong in the insect order Hymenoptera.

Above is a photograph of a conopid fly which is a parasite of bees.  In flies, the eyes are typically at the front of the head and are forward-facing.  It has one pair of wings and short antennae.  

eyes face forward in flies

Some flies look a little like bees, as is the case of the bee fly which is actually a parasite of various species, especially of solitary bees. Read about the bee fly.

a gingery, furry round insect that insect may look like a bee, but it's actually a type of fly.This insect may look like a bee, but it's actually a type of fly.


In summary....

Bees, true bugs and true flies are all insects, but separate at the classification level of 'Insect Order' - see below:

Bees

Kingdom:
Animalia (Animal)

Phylum:
Arthropoda (Arthropod)

Class: 
Insecta (Insect)

Order:  
Hymenoptera

True Bugs

Kingdom:
Animalia (Animal)

Phylum:
Arthropoda
(Arthropod)

Class:
Insecta (Insect)

Order: 
Hemiptera

True Flies

Kingdom:
Animalia (Animal)

Phylum:
Arthropoda
(Arthropod)

Class:
Insecta (Insect)

Order:
Diptera


Is a bee a type of wasp?

Bees and wasps are closely related, and even belong to the same insect order (Hymenoptera) and sub-order - (Apocrita), however, they are classified differently at the next level of classification, which is Superfamily:

Bee

solitary bee species - painted mining bee foraging on knapweed

Kingdom:  
Animalia (Animal)

Phylum: 
Arthropoda (Arthropod)

Class: 
Insecta (Insect)

Order:  
Hymenoptera

Suborder: 
Apocrita

Superfamily: 
Apoidea

Wasp

queen wasp foraging on pale pink rose

Kingdom: 
Animalia (Animal)

Phylum:
Arthropoda (Arthropod)

Class:
Insecta (Insect)

Order: 
Hymenoptera

Suborder:
Apocrita

Superfamily:
Vespoidea

Please note that the term 'meat bee' in some regions of the world actually refers to a wasp, notably yellow jackets


However, a very small number of tropical bee species do in fact eat meat!

Is A Bee An Invertebrate?

Yes, bees are invertebrates.  An invertebrate is an animal without an internal backbone (spinal column).  Bees have no backbone, only an exoskeleton, which is a thin, shell-like outer skeleton.


Resources

  • Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens - Eric Grissell.




Do bees sleep?
Apparently they do, but how do we know?

Sleeping honey bees, links to the page 'Do bees sleep?'


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