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Is that a male or a female bee?

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 01 Oct 2010 at 01:20 PM

There are still bees about, though their numbers grow fewer each week, as the temperature drops and now we have had a week of rain, which will surely further reduce the number seen. The asters are just still flowering and although they look pretty soggy right now, the bees are there as soon as the sun comes out.


I was looking at pictures of bees the other day identifying what turned out to be a carder bee, Bombus pascuorum, when I came across a very well written and simple guide to telling whether a bee is male or female.

I don’t keep bees and can think of no real need for this information, but am drawn by the simple pleasure of finding things out. There is an undeniable satisfaction in looking at something and being able to say to yourself ‘Ah yes, that’s an X, Y or Z’. Little nuggets and gems of information to be tucked away for later, just in case they might be needed.

So, how do you tell a female bee from a male? It is surprisingly easy, once you know what to look for. To start with, look at the feelers (antennae) on their heads. On male bees they are long and arched, whilst on female bees the antennae are shorter and have a noticeable ‘elbow’ or angle.



 Rounded antennae



 Angled antennae


Next, look at their legs. Unlike most humans, the female has hairier legs than the male. This is because only females collect pollen and it is the hairs, along with a slight depression in the upper leg, that acts as the pollen basket. As the males don’t collect pollen, they don’t need the depression or the same amount of leg hair as the females.



Leg of a male bee


The leg hair method can also be used to identify cuckoo bees. This type of bee is a parasite; it does not build a nest or collect pollen, but lays its eggs in the nests of other bees, which doesn't seem very polite, but then a bee has to make a living somehow. 


Bumblebee identification guide



EvaInNL said:

Oh wow, I always thought it was the male bees that went out of the hive to collect pollen and that the females stay in. Thanks for setting me straight Miranda, great article and lovely clear pics as always!

on 01 Oct 2010 at 09:07 PM

sue1002 said:

I didn't know it was the females only that collected the pollen.

on 01 Oct 2010 at 09:27 PM

asj said:

As always, Miranda, brilliant informative blog.  Hope you're not overdoing it!

on 02 Oct 2010 at 06:04 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks everyone!

I had a cheeky person ask me if the female bees have antennae like that so they can hang a handbag from one of them... :-)

on 05 Oct 2010 at 05:16 PM

Susiq said:

Fantastic photo's - very informative too, well done.

on 06 Oct 2010 at 03:12 PM

richardpeeej said:

Very interesting article Miranda. If I had plenty of ground I would love to keep chickens and also bees. It must be great to collect your own eggs and honey.

on 08 Oct 2010 at 08:59 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Susiq!

Richard - if you get your allotment, maybe you can keep bees and chickens there. That would be interesting.

on 18 Oct 2010 at 02:00 PM

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