Bee Bodies: Teaching Honey Bee Anatomy

Bee on purple coneflower.

Bee on purple coneflower. Photo: Xander Schmelzling

While sitting in my backyard at my daughter’s graduation party, I spotted a bee on a nearby purple coneflower. Its back legs were coated in pollen. As the bee flew off, I was impressed with its ability to take off while carrying the load. Did you know that the “pollen pellets” on a bee’s back legs can account for 30% of its weight? My 13-year-old neighbor, and former student, was standing nearby with his camera and I encouraged him to take a picture of the bee. Taking pictures is just one way to help your students get interested in bee anatomy. 

Bee on purple coneflower.

Bee on purple coneflower. Photo: Xander Schmelzling, 13

Say “Bees”

Your students may have a general sense of what bees look like, but do they really know the details? Start by having them draw a detailed image of a bee from memory. Then take them outside to observe bees on the BEE TV observation window of your Beepod or take pictures of bees on flowers. Remind them that they will need to get close to the bee, but should not touch it. Tell students to avoid zooming in. They will end up with a sharper image if they get as close as possible to the bee and then crop the photo afterward. Also, encourage students to shoot from different angles to see the various parts of the bee, including the face. Tech-savvy students may experiment with taking videos and then extracting still images. After your bee viewing session, give students time to edit their photos and share them with the class via Apple TV or Chromecast. Each student should point out body parts on her/his bee. Lastly, have them put their cell phones away and try drawing a bee from memory again. 

Bee Anatomy

Bee Anatomy Illustrations

True or false? Bees have two different kinds of eyes.

True! Bees have two large compound eyes and three smaller ocelli eyes in the center of their heads. The word “ocelli” comes from the Latin word “ocellus,” meaning “little eye.” The ocelli help the honey bees orientate toward the sun so they can navigate during the day. Check out Kanoe’s blog for more information on the ways bees see the world. 

Studying honey bee anatomy is a great way to teach students how to analyze anatomical illustrations. Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences provides clear illustrations of both interior and exterior anatomy. Primary grade teachers might focus on the most basic parts, such as head, thorax, and abdomen. This can be set to the tune of a song, complete with motions, like “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Try singing it in another language for an added twist. Another fun activity would be to play “Ask a Biologist,” and have students take turns as the biologist while classmates ask questions about one of the diagrams. Older students could study the detailed illustrations and then label blank diagrams to demonstrate their knowledge.  


Bee Anatomy for High School

Once you show your students illustrations of bee parts, you might take them to the USDA’s Bee Health site. Here, you will find photographs of the head, antennae, mouthparts, internal organs, and eyes. This detailed site would be appropriate for a high school biology class. Ask your students to take their own photographs of bees and add labels. 

The South Carolina Beekeepers Association has a 45-slide “Honey Bee Anatomy and Physiology” presentation created by David E. MacFawn. Designed for the most serious of beekeepers, this presentation includes illustrations, photographs, and facts. 


Bee Anatomy Videos

Art teachers can show students a fascinating video about rare anatomical models at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. One of the models is a complete paper mache model of a beehive made by a French artist in the mid-19th century. After viewing, have students make their own paper mache bees or beehives.  

High school students can dive deep into bee anatomy with videos like the one from Oregon State University’s Master Beekeeping Course. The video shows instructors dissecting bees under a microscope, and would be helpful when teaching bee anatomy and organs. Additional high-level instructional videos can be found on the British Beekeepers Association site


When you plan to teach your students about pollinators and honey bees, a good starting point is anatomy. This will build their scientific vocabulary and provide them with a better understanding of the creatures they are studying. With engaging videos and detailed illustrations, students’ interest will really take off! 





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Bill Polacheck

Bill is a teacher, environmentalist, and freelance writer. If he's not out in nature, he's happy to be writing about it.'

Latest posts by Bill Polacheck (see all)'
Bill Polacheck
Bill is a teacher, environmentalist, and freelance writer. If he's not out in nature, he's happy to be writing about it.

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