English for beekeepers

Bee words having Latin plurals

Today I’m going to write about Latin. How boring is that? But there is a reason for my madness: time and again I have heard beekeepers trip all over certain bee words having Latin plurals, so I’ve decided to review a few of the common ones. I know nothing about Latin, which makes me (by Internet standards) the perfect person for the job.


A larva is an immature bee in the second-stage of metamorphosis. Bees, like many other insects, go from egg to larva to pupa to adult. It is a stage often referred to as “worm-like” by non-entomologists. Most people have no trouble saying or spelling “larva” or the adjective “larval.” But the plural gets folks all tangled up.

A number of Latin plurals are formed by adding an “e” to the end of the word. The final “e” has the same effect as adding an “s” to many English words. It simply means “more than one.” So “larva” in the plural becomes “larvae.” Now, I’ve been told that technically that is not quite right, that you actually drop the final “a” and add “ae” which, to me, just adds confusion. So forget that part. Just add the “e” and be happy.

Now that you’ve got it spelled right, how the heck do you say it? In the singular, you say lar-vah, but in the plural the end of the word has a long “e” sound: lar-vee. It rhymes with “many.” Many larvae.

According to some dictionaries, the plural form “larvas” is slowly becoming accepted, but for now it seems that beekeepers are sticking with the Latin form.


A pupa is the third life stage, right after larva and means “doll.” Apparently someone thought a pupa looked like a little doll. Whatever. But the good news is the plural is formed exactly the same way. Just add an “e” to the end of the word, and pronounce it as a long “e”: pyoo-pah becomes pyoo-pee. Like the plural form “larvas”, the word “pupas” is slowly becoming accepted.


This is easy, right? All these words work the same way. A corbicula is a pollen basket, a hairy receptacle on the hind legs of some bee species that is used for carrying pollen. The plural, of course, is “corbiculae” and is pronounced with a long “e” sound at the end: cor-bi-kyoo-lee.


You might not know this one unless you are fond of identifying wild bee species. A facial fovea (fo-vee-ah) is an indentation in the bee’s face, running alongside the compound eye in some species. It means “pit” and, in some cases it is filled with hairs. The plural of “fovea,” as you might now assume, is “foveae” (fo-vee-ee). It is difficult to pronounce because there is a long “e” sound followed by another long “e” sound.

So there you have my Latin lesson for the day. It can take a while to learn the plurals, especially when you so often see or hear them used incorrectly. If even one person finds this useful, it will have been worth the effort.

Honey Bee Suite


  • If you REALLY want to confuse people, throw in the pi suffix. This is yet another plural in Latin.

    And the next time you hear someone with a PhD in Oceanography or the like use octopi as the plural for octopus, feel free to laugh at them, since octopus is a Greek word. The correct plural is therefore octopuses.

    • Craig,

      Funny. My husband and I use the pi suffix whenever it’s remotely pronounceable. We do it so often I’m always afraid I will do it in public someday and make a fool of myself.

        • Granny,

          That’s a great one, Kleeneces. Many years ago I asked my daughter to put Kleenex on the shopping list. Once in the store, it took me a minute to sort out the meaning of “clean necks.”

  • Rusty thank you so much for your tireless effort at educating us out here in bee mundi. Your articles are always a pleasure to read and learn from. While you may not hear from me very often be assured you spread joy and knowledge with your witty and informative writing and information. Keep up the great work, we need you and your talents to keep us laughing and informed.

  • Great post! I happen to love Latin…took 2 years of it in high school and enjoyed the discipline and structure of the language. I also loved that learning Latin boosted my ability to define words simply by identifying root words. And Latin gave me a real foundation in all of the so-called romance languages. Four years of French in high school and two years in college were eased considerably by Mrs. Larkin and her Latin classes.

  • This is the 1st year we have had a garden since becoming beekeepers. The bees are bringing in pollen from the corn since not much else is blooming. I’ve heard that corn pollen has no nutritional value for bees. Is this true? Does it harm them?

    • Myrna,

      Corn pollen is low in crude protein. Most corn pollen contains about 14–15% crude protein, but bees need about 20%. But unless that is the only thing your bees are collecting, it is usually not a problem. Honey bees go from plant to plant as the season progresses, and because the stored pollens get mixed together in the hive, the corn pollen will be consumed along with other pollens with higher crude protein levels. A lot of the negative things you hear about corn pollen is that corn is often treated with neonicotinoids that can collect in the pollen grains and harm the bees. But if this is just your own garden corn, I wouldn’t worry about it.

  • Thank you very much. I like that you take the time to research these kind of questions. As I am getting older I appreciate the nuances of languages more and more. I wish that I had paid more attention when I went to school.

  • Hi,
    I’m told by my latin educated partner that the reason for the ‘drop the final a and add ae’ idea comes from the fact that in the old, traditional way of imagining latin phonetics ‘ae’ was read as a single sound and the letters written together like you sometimes see in the spelling of curriculum vitae. It would be read as an -é sound, larv-é (-é sounds like eh in english, I think). There is now a new interpretation of how latin should sound, the restored phonetics, that stipulates the -ae to be two different sounds, and the letters written separately. It was supposed to sound – in latin – àee, something like larv-ah-ee.
    You can sometimes hear this double way of saying it in the way different people say vitae (as in CV) sometimes vit-é others vit-ah-ee.
    Not sure if this makes any sense…

  • Just to add confusion, if you were raised Catholic (especially before Vatican II when the Mass was (almost) entirely in Latin), the plural of a word ending in “ah” would be “ae” and pronounced like “eye”. In Christian Latin, pupae would be pronounced “pyoo-pie”. Mrs. Greely, my high school Latin teacher, would cringe to hear me say, pyoo-pee. But that was at Mt St Mary Seminary a LONG time ago!

      • Also, when you said all those plurals were pronounced long-e I was surprised. I would have said long-a, but I wouldn’t argue. Around the country Americans can’t even agree on vowel sounds in English (by which I mean American).

        • Granny,

          I’ve heard it said both ways, but since Latin is a “dead” language, there is no one around to argue. You pick up the long e when you hang around the professors.

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