Bees are such fascinating creatures, from how they run their colony without supervision and the awesome food they make in form of honey to even how they look. Bees have a trademark look and that is being hairy all over their bodies including on the eyes.
All bees have hair on their bodies, it is one of the distinguishing marks of bees from other insects. The hairs help the bee to conduct its activities efficiently such as the collection of pollen in addition to aiding in its thermal regulation.
Read on to learn more on why the furry look is very crucial to bees and why bees need this body hair.
Do Bees Need Hair on their Bodies?
Most insects do not have any sort of hair on their bodies, but when it comes to bees, it is almost impossible to find one that is hairless. Is the bee hair that Important that they can’t stay without it?
The simple answer is yes. Bees need their body hair to survive and carry out their normal day-to-day activities. Particularly the honey worker bee needs it in carrying out its job of foraging for food.
Without body hair, probably bees would not be able to survive for long, because their living depends on their body hair. It is that critical.
Talk of bumblebees, they are famous because of their furry look. Even kids know that, for you to have a bumblebee you must also have hair on the bee. It gives it an aesthetic appeal beyond functionality.
The major reason that bees need to have hair is because of the nature of the source of their food. Bees mainly feed on plant matter in form of pollen and nectar. Bees therefore visit flowers throughout the course of their lives.
The pollen provides for their protein and lipid nutritional needs while the nectar is their energy source. The body hair traps pollen on the bee’s body as it crawls in and out of the flower, thus aiding the bee to collect the food for the hive.
When the bee visits another flower, the pollen will rub on the anther of the other flower, hence pollinating it. Therefore, the body hair of the bee is not only important for food collection but also pollination.
Apart from playing a crucial role during the collection process, the hairs on the bee also come in handy during transportation. Once it has collected the pollen, the bee will use her front and middle legs which are also hairy, as brushes to move the pollen to the rear legs that have hairy recesses and are famously referred to as pollen baskets. The actual scientific term is corbiculae.
The rear legs have a special design and are different from the other two pairs. The hair on the rear legs is stiffer because they are specifically designed for this job. The stiff hairs are the primary carriers for pollen as the bees finalize their tour around the flowers before heading back home.
The front legs although haired too, they are designed with slots to help the bee clean its antenna. Therefore, a thorough inspection of the bee’s body shows a unique pattern of hair and type of hair on each part of the body because the hair is what makes the bee unique and efficient.
What Is Bee Hair Made Of?
Bee hair is not the same as human hair, it is different altogether. Even the feathers of birds and the fur on mammals does not compare to bee hair. Neither is it made of the same material as fish or reptile scales. It is a special kind of hair.
When you look at this hair under a microscope you will notice that they appear as bristles and a chemical analysis indicates that they are made of the same material that the bee’s exoskeleton is made of.
The material that makes bee hair and also the bee exoskeleton is referred to as chitin. Bee hair is unlike that of reptiles whose body covering (scales) is made of keratin.
One of the reasons why bee hair is different from that of mammals and reptiles is because it serves a totally different purpose as the covering in these other creatures. For mammals, birds and reptiles, the body covering has mostly to do with either warmth or protection, the bee hair also plays a role in sensory activities.
Bee hair helps the bee sense changes in its environment such as wind or slight air movement, vibration and touch in addition to the collection of pollen.
More about the role of bee hair will be discussed later on in this article.
Do Bumblebees Have Hair or Fur?
Whenever you look at bumblebees, you will not fail to notice their furry appearance. Have you ever cared to wonder whether this is actually more like hair or more like fur?
The furry look is further enhanced by the roundedness of the bumblebee body. Most bumblebees, regardless of the specific species, are plump in appearance. Bumblebees are usually larger, broader and have shorter bodies than honeybees. What distinguishes one bumblebee from another is the color of the stripes on its body.
Bumblebees can at times have longer tongues unlike those of honeybees which are shorter.
Although it is dangerous to touch bees unless you are experienced, bumblebees both look and feel fuzzy and soft. The material that covers their body is not sharp but soft and cozy to the touch.
For bumblebees, the material that covers their bodies is more like fur and less like hair. The covering on their bodies is what is known as long branched setae in scientific circles and it is mostly referred to as pile.
We had already established that bees have neither hair nor fur because the one covering their bodies is made of a special type of material. But it is safe to say that the covering on bumblebees’ bodies is closer to a furry look.
What Function Does the Fur or Hair on The Bee’s Body Play?
The furry bodies of bees and yet other insects do not have hair on the bodies is enough evidence that it is more than just hair. Add on to the fact that bees have hair on almost all areas of their bodies including their legs, eyes and even tongue.
Actually, these hairs on the bee’s body serve several purposes without which the bee’s life would become harder and probably die.
The main role of the hair are the following; to aid in the collection of pollen, temperature regulation and detection of vibration in the air, and also enhancing feeding for the bee.
Let’s consider each of these roles in detail.
- Bee’s hair increases their efficiency in collection and carrying pollen
The primary food for bees is pollen grains together with nectar. It is in a bee’s best interest to collect the maximum possible quantity for the sake of its self and its colony.
If the worker bee will not collect sufficient quantities of the pollen, there would be a scarcity of food in the hive and soon the colony will die of starvation.
At the same time, a bee can only make so many trips to and from the hive in a day. It wants to maximize every single trip back to the hive by carrying back the maximum possible quantity of pollen together with it.
Because of that, the hairs on the bee’s body come in handy in achieving these objectives.
The hairs on the worker bee act as traps for the fine pollen grains because pollen easily adheres to bee hairs helping the bee save time in collecting the pollen when foraging.
The phenomena that causes pollen to stick on the bee’s body further aid in pollination because these grains will be deposited on the anther of another flower of the same species hence pollinating it.
Actually the hairs play a part in making the bees the top plant pollinators across the globe. It is estimated that bees pollinate up to 80% of the world’s plants.
The trapping of pollen grains on the bee’s body is so crucial that she has hairs even on her eyes for maximum efficiency.
Seasons change and there comes a time when the weather is too harsh for the bees and if they do not take drastic action the entire colony will be wiped off.
Bees are smart to know what to do if the weather changes and winter sets in. One of the things they do is huddling together in the hive with the queen at the center. The action of huddling together helps them to combine their body heat and remain alive.
Considering that all the bees huddling together are hairy, the huddle becomes like a blanketed colony. The hairs help to trap body heat and keep everyone warm until when the weather will be conducive enough.
If not for the hair which acts as an insulation, the colony would be wiped off.
Therefore, the bodily hairs help them stay warm when it is cold.
- Helps the bee to feed
Did you know that the bee has hairs even on its tongue? As crazy as that sounds, it is actually true.
Having hair on the tongue seems a little bit over the top until you realize that the hairs on the tongue have an important role. These hairs aid the bee in feeding.
The hairs on the bee’s tongue make it easy for the bee to suck up the nectar from the flower. From speculation, hairs are suspected to help the bee form its tongue into a straw-like structure for sucking nectar.
- Helps the bee detect vibrations
The finer hairs on the bees’ bodies are sensitive to vibrations and alert the bee of any changes in the state of temperature, wind speed, movement or oncoming of a potential threat. The hairs are also sensitive to touch.
- Specialized functions in specific bees
Some bees may have specialized hairs that are wired to perform specific functions in specific bees. Here are some of the examples of bees having specialized hairs.
- Oil collecting bees
These are bees that seek to collect oil from flowers, to do this they have oil collection hairs that form a spatula shape and make that possible.
- Pollen baskets on honeybees and bumblebees
Bumblebees and honey bees transfer the pollen they have collected to their rear legs. Although they are hairy all over their body, the hair on the hind legs are specialized for carrying pollen.
The hairs on the hind legs are special, because they are tougher and curled for that special function of transporting pollen. These hairs make it easy for the bees to transport their load back to the hive where it will be processed to honey or food for larvae.
- Abdomen hairs for transporting pollen (scopa)
Unlike honeybees and bumblebees that carry pollen on their hind legs, some types of bees transport the pollen while carrying it under their abdomen for example the leafcutter.
The special hairs under the abdomen of the bee are referred to as scopa.
Scopa can also be located on the legs of the bee.
The difference between this and the ones on the honey and bumblebees is that scopa is more specialized for dry pollen while the honeybees can carry pollen mixed with nectar or one that is moistened.
Do Bees Have Hairy Eyeballs?
For to understand the serious need for bees to have hair, they have it even on their eyes. If you look keenly you can observe hair to be growing on the two large eyes on either side of the bee’s head.
Just like the rest of the hairs on the body, the hair growing on the eyes also have a similar role in pollen collection. The spacing between the hairs on the eyes is specifically enough to hold a grain of pollen.
But the hairs on the eyes have an additional role in aiding in navigation. The bees use the hairs to detect wind speeds and make adjustments in their flight design.
It is amazing to know that the seemingly insignificant aspect of the bee such as its hairs plays a role in its success in life. Hope you have learned something new today.