We tend to think of honeybees in terms of flight rather than walking about or the other important tasks which they provide. It tends to be the flying bee which causes the most stress to non-beekeepers.
As beekeepers, we are well used to bees flying about us and certainly, walking about on the honeycombs during normal beekeeping operations.
Honeybees have six legs, ie three pairs, all located on the thorax of the body. Most of the leg parts have names that most people are familiar with, such as “femur” or “tibia”. Each foot has a soft pad and a pair of claws for anchorage on landing. Both of these have specific uses.
The soft pads (like suction pads) are applied when the bee lands on a smooth surface such as the glass in a window.
The claws are offered when the surface is coarse or rough, such as ones jacket or hair. It is the claws which create the problem for the bee – for example, when she tries to fly off from our hair. They are designed to grip, and that is what they do. The bee, on trying to extricate herself from entanglement, assumes she is in danger and will, in defence, respond appropriately by stinging the aggressor.
Given that the bee is a pollinator, body hair plays a vital role in trapping pollen grains for collection and or transfer in the pollination process
On each of the first pair of legs, there is a notch used for cleaning her antennae, known as the “antennal cleaner”. Since the antennae contain large numbers of sense organs, they must be kept free of dust and dirt.
The middle pair, as is the case with all the legs, are covered with hair. Given that the bee is a pollinator, body hair plays a vital role in trapping pollen grains for collection and or transfer in the pollination process.
If collecting pollen, these legs are used to clean the thorax of pollen and transfer it to the hind pair of legs.
A closer look
From a beekeeping perspective, the hind legs of the honeybee are always in focus as they contain the pollen baskets. These baskets, known as “corbiculae”, are specifically designed to collect, pack and retain pollen grains for conveyance back to the hive, giving the beekeeper signals as to what is happening within the hive.
Those with good eyesight will be able to see honeybees collecting pollen, cleaning it from their body hair and through a series of leg movements transfer it to the corbicula (pollen basket).
The soft pad on each foot produces a pheromone that remains on any surface that she has walked
Honeybees produce pheromones (communication chemicals) on many parts of their body. The soft pad on each foot produces a pheromone that remains on any surface that she has walked. Other honeybees pick it up and glean certain information from it.
Pheromones are the language of bees. Beekeepers can recognise the smell of some of them and know what they are indicating.
Spare a thought for the honeybee next time one gets stuck in your coat or hair
Where bees have been temporarily placed in a box for some reason, say two years ago, it will still attract bees if left available to them. It is the footprint pheromone which is still present, that attracts them.
Spare a thought for the honeybee next time one gets stuck in your coat or hair. She only wants to get her claws free and fly away.