There has been some buzz lately about whether or not bees are bugs. The term bug is used to describe all sorts of creepy-crawly creatures, from tiny bed bugs to the robust Ox beetle. Some of our technological glitches are even caused by computer bugs. Scientists, however, use the term bugs to describe a very specific group of insects. Knowing that we call a whole variety of things bugs when they are not in fact considered true bugs, may leave you wondering: are bees bugs?

The quick (and scientifically correct) answer may surprise you: bees are not bugs. Bees are insects, and therefore, they are related to bugs. However, bees are not considered true bugs. We have compiled some more detailed information to help you better understand the characteristics, similarities and differences between bees, bugs and other types of insects. A closer look at bugs, insects and bees can help make sense of the whole situation and further answer the question: are bees bugs?


honey bees on a flower

What Is The Difference Between Bugs And Insects?

Many people use the terms “bugs” and “insects” interchangeably. Because of that, you are probably wondering if there is a difference between bugs and insects and just what that difference might be. Basically, bugs are a type of insect. Like a cousin might be a part of your family, bugs are a part of the extended family of insects. Additionally, just like there may be differences between you and your cousins, true bugs may look and act different from other insects, such as bees.


Features Of All Insects


All insects have some features in common. This includes an exoskeleton to protect them, bodies that are segmented into smaller components, and multiple legs. Look at either an ant (Hymenoptera -not a bug) or a tiny bed bug (Hemiptera -true bug), and you will notice that each has six legs and the same three clearly defined body segments: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. They both also have a slightly hard outer shell, known as the exoskeleton, which takes the place of the internal bone structure found in many other animals.


Features Specific To True Bugs


There are more than 80,000 species of true bugs, each with its own separate and defining characteristics. These can include habitat, geographical range, diet, behavioral patterns, coloring, size and other distinct physical characteristics. Because of this, only basic features common to all true bugs can be considered here.

Members of the order Hemiptera have highly specialized mouths called stylets that serve as straws for sucking up food. In fact, true bugs lack teeth, so they cannot technically bite. All true bugs hatch from their eggs as nymphs, or miniature versions of adult bugs, through a process called incomplete metamorphosis. Also, true bugs have strong forewings attached to their thorax.


a bee

How Are Bees Classified?

Simply put, bees are insects. While bees are not true bugs, it is very common to hear them referred to by that title. They do have several characteristics that are similar to those found in true bugs (which are also insects), but to answer the question “are bees bugs?”, the scientifically correct answer is no, bees are not bugs. A basic review of the taxonomic classification system can help clear this confusion up.

Classification of living organisms begins at the Kingdom level. For our purposes, we are focusing only on the Kingdom Animalia (which includes insects, bugs or otherwise). That Kingdom is divided into 35 phyla, and all insects fall into the arthropods phylum. Arthropods can be classed as Arachnids (spiders and scorpions) or Insects. The class of insects is broken up into roughly 30 orders, or smaller groups of more refined classification. Some commonly known orders are Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Hemiptera (true bugs).


Hemiptera


Although you may refer to most insects as bugs, scientists only include members of the order Hemiptera under that title. Hemiptera are the only “true bugs” of the insect world. Aphids, leafhoppers, stink bugs and bed bugs fall under this classification. They eat by sucking food through highly specialized mouths called stylets. All Hemiptera undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, meaning they emerge from their eggs as nymphs, or miniature adults.


Hymenoptera


This order is one you are probably familiar with. It includes ants, wasps and bees, along with many thousands of their close relatives. These insects are characterized by the membrane structure of their wings. Some members of this order, such as honeybees, are known for their incredibly complex social systems, while others maintain solitary lives except for mating activities. Several families of Hymenoptera, such as ants and bees, are excellent pollinators.


Apidae: The Bees


the bee in the comb

Most bee societies are incredibly complex and have a highly specialized social structure. Queens are the only females within each colony that can reproduce, and all other females are workers. These are the only bees that can actually sting you. Male drones are incapable of stinging and live only to mate with the queen, after which they immediately die. Bee colonies utilize an advanced language, which is made up of dance-like movements and patterns to communicate important information to each other.

Bees have special housing requirements, which vary at the genus and species level. For example, honey bees require protected open cavities to build an internal wax hive while carpenter bees bore holes to make nests. Knowing the needs of bees can help you ensure the safety and productivity of your own hives.

Like classification of all other living things, the classification of bees is based on anatomical, geographical and behavioral differences. Looking at the full taxonomic classification of three categories of bees can show small differences that make each subfamily and genus unique.


The Honey Bee


Honey bees are specialized bees that produce honey in naturally occurring empty cavities or manmade hives. This honey serves as a food source for the bees, and for those lucky enough to harvest some of it. Most people recognize two distinct types of honey bees -the European honey bee and the Africanized honey bee. Both insects belong to the same species (Apis mellifera), with differences  primarily found in their behavior.

Africanized honey bees are more easily disturbed than their European counterparts and are more likely to display aggressive and swarming behavior when provoked. They are no more poisonous that European honey bees, but their propensity for attacking in swarms makes an attack much more dangerous to humans and animals.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: arthropods
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Genus: Apis
  • Species: mellifera


The Bumblebee


More than 250 species of bumblebees can be found throughout the world, primarily in the northern hemisphere. They are generally well known and recognizable to most people. Bumblebees are fairly docile and will generally not sting unprovoked. Like other bees, bumblebees feed on nectar, pollen and honey.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: arthropods
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Genus: Bombus
  • Species: varied (over 250 distinct species)


The Carpenter Bee


Carpenter bees are generally large, with less hair on their abdomen than either honey or bumble bees, and have mandibles located close to their eyes. These bees are named because they make nests by boring into soft wood.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: arthropods
  • Class: insects
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Subfamily: Xylocopinae
  • Genus: multiple (large and small carpenter bees)


Are Bees Bugs?

All of this discussion brings us back to the original question: are bees bugs, or are they something else? With the term "bugs" used freely in modern society, there is often confusion as to whether or not bees (including our favorite, honey bees) should be considered bugs.

In a conversational manner, many people would answer the question “are bees bugs?” with a hearty yes. Those people are using the term bugs to include all insects, which is very common and widely accepted. However, armed with the knowledge that the words “bugs” and “insects” refer to two distinct classifications of arthropods, you can logically conclude that no, in the true scientific meaning of the word, bees are not bugs.

Both bees and true bugs are types of insects and, as such, they are related to each other, but bees are not actually bugs. Adding to the confusion, you will often hear bees referred to as bugs because the term is used to describe most insect. Let’s recap some of the characteristics that separate bees from true bugs.


Characteristics Of Bees:


  • Membrane wings
  • Lancet style stinger
  • Complex social structures
  • Six legs
  • Segmented body


Characteristics Of Bugs:


  • Segmented body
  • Straw-like mouth for sucking in food
  • Lack of teeth
  • Six legs
  • Strong forewings

Conclusion

Are bees bugs? Well, no, they aren’t, at least not in the true, scientific sense of the word bugs. Bees are a close relative of true bugs, and, along with the numerous other families and sub-families of insects, they share some of the same features. Yet, that doesn’t mean that you will not often hear bees referred to as bugs, since many people use the term to cover most insects and, sometimes, even arachnids. However, if you are asked the question “Are bees bugs?," you will now be able to answer confidently that bees are not bugs, but that both bugs and bees are types of insects.

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