Why Do Bees Have Hair?  Why Are Bees Furry?

Above: This bumble bee foraging on knapweed has a fine dusting of pale pollen on its black furry coat.

1.  An Efficient Way To Collect And Carry Pollen
As bees visit flowers, they collect fine pollen grains on the many hairs on their bodies.   The fact that the pollen automatically catches on the individual hairs when the bees visit flowers means that the process is efficient.  In other words, pollen is caught on the hairs by default (although for some flowers that cling on to their pollen, some bees may buzz pollinate - a method of shaking and vibrating the anthers until the pollen comes loose).  Look very closely at the photograph above, and you'll see a fine, pale dusting of pollen on the bumble bee's furry coat. 

2. Thermo-regulation
In cool weather, the hairs on a bee's body help to keep it warm, because the fine hairs trap the heat.   With honey bees that huddle together in a nest or hive over winter, this effect is magnified by the fact that there are lots of bees together, all with hairy bodies.  You can read more about this on the page Where Do Bees Go In Winter?

3. Feeding
The tongues of bees feature hairs that aid in the lapping up of nectar when foraging on flowers.  In some writings, it is also suggested that the hairs on the tongues of some bees may help the bee's tongue to form a tube or straw shape for sucking up nectar. (1)

4. Picking Up Vibrations
The fine hairs on the bodies of bees help them to pick up vibrations from the atmosphere, and indeed actual touch.  This can help them with alarm responses.

Some Bees Have Specially Adapted Hairs To Perform Specific Tasks

Here are just a few examples:

Oil Collecting Hairs For Oil Collecting Bees
Some bees, known as 'oil collecting bees', such as Macropis, actually use specially adapted hairs on their front legs to collect oils from flowers.  Together, the hairs form a spatula shape, specially designed for the purpose.

Pollen Baskets On The Legs
Bees such as bumble bees and honey bees collect pollen on their hairy bodies, then transfer it to specially adapted hairs on their back legs called corbiculae - otherwise known as pollen baskets.  In this way, the bees can easily transport the pollen back to the nest following foraging trips.  The pollen baskets are tufts of stiff, curled hairs that are well equipped to carry a mixture of pollen moistened with nectar.  Read more about How Bees Collect Pollen.

Bellow is a bumble bee with pollen baskets full of pollen.

Above: Bumble bee foraging on rose - note the pollen baskets on the hind legs, laden with pollen.

Scopa Under The Abdomen
Some bees carry pollen on specially adapted hairs on the abdomen, called scopa.  Below you can see a leafcutter bee approaching campanula flowers with scopa full of pale, creamy pollen.  Read more, and watch some videos about amazing leafcutter bees.

Above: Leafcutter bee showing scopa.

Scopa On the Legs
Scopa can also appear on the legs as seen in the picture below.  These hairs are ideal for collecting dry pollen.

Above: Note the scopa full of pollen on the hind legs of this bee. The shape is quite different to the balls of pollen seen on the legs of the bumble bee in a previous image above.

You might like these

  • Do Bees Have Teeth?

    In a sense bees do indeed have teeth on their mandibles (jaws), although they are not 'teeth' like those found in the mouths of humans or other mammals.

  • Honey Bees Have Hairy Eyes

    Honey bees have hairy eyes. Read about how eye hair prevents flower pollen becoming stuck directly to the bee's eyes whilst foraging.

  • Do bees have ears? Can bees hear? How do bees pick up sounds?

    No, bees do not have ears, however, they are able to pick up sounds, so in a sense they can ‘hear’ but not through the use of the ears.

(1) The Tongue Of The Honey Bee page 274 b Prof. A. J. Cook; found by copying and pasting the link below into your browser: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/