How Many Legs Do Bees Have?

Bees are fascinating creatures, small in size but intricate — from their head down to their legs. While their anatomy isn’t that different from other insects, bees have evolved to fit their purpose in the ecosystem.

Their role is to pollinate and produce honey. The bee does this with the help of its body — especially the legs. They have a certain number of them, which are used in a unique way to help pollination. 

Bees Leg Anatomy

The bee has three pairs of legs — one in front, middle and back. Each of these pairs consists of six sections, they are: 

Coxa 

This small segment connects the leg to the thorax of the bee, where it pivots via two joints (articulations). 

Each coxa hinges a leg in a particular direction. 

The frontal pair, point forward, the middle legs angle slightly backward, and the hind pair are directed towards the back. As the front legs swing forward, the middle and rear legs will swing outward. 

Trochanter 

In between the coxa and the femur is this tiny section. The trochanter swings in relation to the movement of the coxa. It’s responsible for the upward and downward movement of the whole leg. 

Femur 

This is a large section of the leg attached to the trochanter via a long and diagonal joint. The connection enables both the trochanter and the femur to move as one unit — which allows for small backward and forward movement.

Tibia 

This is the fourth segment of the bee’s legs, which is a joint between the femur and the metatarsus. It’s considered the “knee” of the bee. 

The rear tibiae are a different shape — they’re much larger than the other two. The reason being, this is the area bees use to extract pollen from flowers. It’s also the last part of the legs containing muscle.

Metatarsus (Basitarsus)

The fifth segment of the bee’s legs — located between the tibia and tarsus. Unlike the tibia, it doesn’t contain any muscles. Instead, a tendon (unguitractor) runs through it. This enables movement from the metatarsus down to the claws (pre-tarsus). 

The metatarsus also contains distinctive pollen-collecting tools such as rows of bristles that form a pollen brush.

Tarsus 

This is the final component of the leg — the foot. It comprises of three tarsi and the pre-tarsus (claw). The claws are attached to the tarsus along with an adhesive pad called the arollium. This is what enables the bee to cling onto smooth surfaces.

Bees carry a special gland within the pre-tarsus. As a result, when bees walk, they leave an odor that helps them search for nectar.

What Do Bees Use Their Legs For? 

All types of bee, queen, drone and worker have the same number of legs — six. While all are used for walking around, the front and the rear legs have additional functions. 

The front pair doubles as a grooming tool for the antennae and to manipulate the pollen into one place at the rear of the bee. The hind legs — only on worker bees, are customized for pollen accumulation — pollen collection tools are present. 

Pollen baskets are concave structures surrounded by hairs. Once the bee lands on the flower, it completely covers its body with pollen. It then begins to groom and brush the pollen around the hind legs to these pockets. The bees mix it with some sticky nectar to ensure the pollen won’t fall off as the bee flies back to the hive.

Bees can also use its legs to taste — at the tip of the pre-tarsus are taste receptors that allow the bee to know whether the pollen is ripe for harvest or not.   

Do All Bees Have Pollen Baskets on their legs?

No. 

The scientific name for the pollen basket is corbicula. It’s typically found on types such as honey and bumble bees. 

Other bees possess a scopa. This can be described as a patch of long hairs that traps the pollen. They can be located on the hind legs or the underside of the abdomen. Leafcutter and mason bees fall into this group (Megachiliae species) .

pollen collecting hairs on leg of bee
These tiny leg hairs help to trap and collect pollen.

Some bees collect pollen by a totally different means. Yellow-faced bees (Hyleus species) collect pollen within their crop. Cuckoo bees (Nomada species) invade other bees’ nests and pilfer their pollen. 

Summary 

With the six segments, the mechanism in which the leg functions is perfect for a bee’s work. The claws and adhesive pad allows them to climb onto smooth surfaces — in any direction. The comb/brush-like hairs on the legs are effective for attracting pollen and also doubles as a grooming tool.

The legs of a bee aren’t just made for walking — they even play a crucial role in harvesting pollen and transport it efficiently. 

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