bee biology

Are bees insects or animals or something else?

Bees, like this honey bee, are both insects and animals. In fact, all insects are animals. David Cappaert.

For those confused by the nomenclature, let me assure you that all bees, in fact all insects, are most definitely 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, fungus, bacterium, virus, or 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.

The number of kingdoms was increased to include odd things

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 plants or animals.

Common animal characteristics

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:

  • Animals are multicellular, meaning they are made up of more than one cell.

  • Animals eat. They bring food into their bodies for energy and nutrients rather than manufacturing their own food the way plants do.

  • Animals move. At some point in their life cycle, animals can move from place to place under their own power. They swim, walk, crawl, hop, fly, slither, wriggle, or roll—but they get there.

  • Animals lack rigid cell walls. Their bodies are soft and pliable rather than woody like a tree, fibrous like hemp, or crunchy like a carrot.

Since a bee has many cells, can eat and 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

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 main body sections

  • Most have antennae

  • Most have external mouthparts

Using the description, bees are insects and animals

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 thing might be.

Honey Bee Suite

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


  • 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.


  • Dear Rusty
    I love gardening and bees, I have put so many plants in my garden, which brings benefits to the bees. We are doing wamyuk interfaith community event about Bee, we will be reminding the pubIic to look after bee needs. Dear Rusty, I just want to say thank you so much for explaining the issue in a such nice and easy way, I have learnt a lot, I wish that we have more caring people like yourself. A Big THANK YOU,

    Kind Regards
    Zahid Khan

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