Are bees insects or animals?

The short answer is yes, bees are both insects and animals. In fact, all insects are animals, and pretty much anything that’s not a plant, a fungus, a bacterium, a virus, or a protist is an animal too.

I’m dating myself here, but when I attended grade school, everything was either a plant or an animal—those were the only choices. I remember being completely stumped by a euglena, a single-celled organism that could swim, surround and absorb food, or—if the pickings were slim—just manufacture some food with its personal supply of chlorophyll. How convenient. I’ve been in restaurants where that would have been a welcome choice.

But ultimately common sense prevailed and now we have a bunch of so-called kingdoms in which to divide all those single-celled half-breeds of life. Depending on whom you talk to, in addition to plants and animals we have fungi, protists, and two types of bacteria.

But for simplicity’s sake, we can rule out all those oddballs for this discussion, because we know a bee is not a fungus, a bacterium, or any other fringy life form. That leaves plant or animal.

Animals have several characteristics that are simple to recognize, and some more technical ones which we don’t need to bother with. Here are the easiest to understand:

Since a bee has many cells, can eat, can fly, and is not woody, a bee is an animal. No doubt about it—it’s not even close to being anything else.

What makes an animal an insect is a little more complex, but generally an insect has

  • An exoskeleton (a hard exterior instead of bones)
  • Three pairs of legs
  • Three body segments
  • Most have antennae
  • Most have external mouthparts

As you can see, a bee fits that description as well. I’ve greatly simplified things here, but I want you to see that these classifications are not mysterious—they are made of things we can observe. If you know some basic biology, you can pretty much figure out what any creepy-crawly might be.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Jim Withers
Reply

One of the very fascinating aspects of honey bees is that in the 19th century they were accorded the “status” of vertebrates. According to the book, ‘The Buzz about Bees, Biology of a Superorganism’ by Jurgen Tautz, Johannes Mehring (1815-1878 declared that a bee colony is a single “being” equivalent to a vertebrate animal. This was the precursor to the term, ‘Superorganism’, coined by William Morton Wheeler in 1911 based on his work on ants. A superorganism is an organism made up of separate living organisms. I highly recommend the book for those interested in a deeper look into the astonishing range of activities within a colony of bees.

Jim

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

This is may favorite bee book, bar none; I keep it close at hand. Great photos, too.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website