My mamacita asked me a few weeks ago about pollen baskets, or pollen pants as some beekeepers call them, since which time I’ve intended to do a wee post to properly introduce the star of this blog: the bees! The next hive inspection is planned for tomorrow, and I want to adhere to my planned once a week post because my business coach husband says this is important, so today’s the day!

As a wildlife biologist who has spent my career so far focused on threatened and endangered species, and birds in particular, I’m really enjoying diving into a completely different taxon, the order hymenoptera, to which bees (and ants and wasps) belong. It’s a fascinating order because it is so different from how vertebrates function. Today we’re going to focus on two key traits: bee anatomy and social structure.

Insects are composed of three body segments: head, thorax, and abdomen. They take in oxygen through spiracles in their exoskeleton. See those pollen baskets on the hind legs in the images?

Filled pollen baskets on the ladies returning home.

These are where they store the collected goodies while foraging. I think this is why I prefer the term pollen baskets over pollen pants. While they do look a bit like they’re wearing puffy golf pants, a basket seems like what one would use on the way home after grocery shopping. Collected nectar is eaten and goes into their honey stomach to be later converted into…you guessed it, honey!

In a bee colony there are three castes: a queen (one), workers (many), and drones (some). The queen’s job is to lay eggs. That’s it! She’s much larger than the workers with wings that are too short for her body. She is attended by workers; I like to call them her entourage. The role of a worker changes over the course of her life, which is only a few weeks long. She starts out in housekeeping and eventually graduates to foraging responsibilities. Drones, the only males, are there to mate with future queens. They’re larger than the workers, with very large eyes.

Castes from

A bee’s caste and sex is determined by the chromosomes that each bee inherited. For those reading this whose biology is a bit rusty, humans have paired chromosomes: one set from our mum, one set from our dad. Our chromosomes are called diploid, meaning there’s two sets. Biological sex (I hope I’m using the correct term here) in humans is determined by a specific sex chromosome: biological females generally have two X chromosomes, and biological males have an X from their mum and a Y from their dad. Birds, by the way, have a different system and it’s reversed. Super cool! Back to bees…Bees on the other hand sometimes are diploid from a fertilized egg (queens and workers; females) so their genetic material comes from both a queen and a drone. Sometimes they are only haploid from an unfertilized egg (drones; males), meaning their genetic material comes from one set of chromosomes, from the queen. The process from egg to adult bee takes about three weeks.

So here’s something interesting about my colony based on this haplodiploid concept that you may have already figured out. Since a bee inherits all of its genetic material from the queen who is the only member of the hive producing bees for that colony, and any given bee only lives a few weeks, the bees that are currently inhabiting my hive are completely unrelated to the bees from the swarm I gathered. Their genetics are gone, at least from here. Usually when bees swarm, the old queen leaves with a portion of the workers from the old hive, leaving the old hive with a new daughter queen. So perhaps, those genetics lived on in that source colony. But my bees, all hatched from eggs laid by either my new queen or the queen from my beekeeper friend when she gave me a frame of baby bees, are completely unrelated to the bees with which I started. We’ll see tomorrow how they’re progressing.