Day 9: Abdominal Segments

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 9. A honey bee has nine abdominal segments.

You may have thought our numbered anatomy was finished, but no! The honey bee abdomen is composed of nine overlapping segments that allow a worker to curl her body while crawling, foraging, or stinging. In fact, when a worker bee is full of honey or nectar, as in a swarm, she is unable to sting because she cannot curl her abdomen.

These segments are also how the dreaded varroa mite attacks our cute little bees. They puncture the soft tissue between the abdominal segments and feed on the fat bodies of the bee. 

The picture here comes from yet another honey bee anatomy page, this one focused on the external anatomy of the bee. According to this site, six of the nine plates are visible in female workers, while seven of the plates are visible in male drones. Each segment has two plates: a “tergite” plate on their back and a “sternite” plate on their ventral (underside) area. The site is a little dated, and has a couple facts wrong, including the notion that varroa mites feed on hemolymph. Scientist used to think varroa fed on hemolymph before the above-mentioned research was conducted in 2019.

The abdominal segments also give our honey bees their distinctive color pattern, as you can see in the following image. In this photo they are somewhat black and brown, or maybe a bit black and orange. The specific color is determined by genetics for the specific race of honey bee. Since a queen typically mates with 12 or more drones, the color can vary from bee to bee within the hive.

This image from our Day 1 post shows some of abdominal color variations you might see within a colony.

May you prosper and find honey.

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