Can Bees Breathe Underwater? The Real Answer

It probably has crossed your mind one time or the another whether or not insects are greatly affected by water. You ask yourself questions like; can bees drown? Do bees even drink or need water to survive? What do bees do when they are caught out in the rain? Do they even breathe? These are questions that cross our minds whenever we think along this line of thought.

Do bees breathe? Yes, they do. It’s hard to think of insects – as seemingly tiny as they are – having a respiratory system, you wonder about whether they’ve got tiny noses and lungs and rushing blood in their tiny veins. You would be terribly off course if you’ve been thinking along that line. While bees have a respiratory system, it does not in any way resemble that of humans or most other species that isn’t an insect. The honey bees’ respiratory system consists of three main parts

  • the spiracles; external respiratory openings (10 of them) that controls the flow of air in and out of the bee
  • the trachea which have extended arms that expand and form air sacs
  • the air sac (an expanded extension of the trachea arms) that serves as reservoirs for oxygen

How do bees breathe?

Bees like most insects breathe by taking in oxygen through the spiracles which branch out to all parts of the bee’s body. When the oxygen is taken in through the spiracles, it is controlled directly to the part of the bees’ body where it is needed. You’re probably wondering at this point whether bees go through the hassle that vertebrates must go through to deposit oxygen to where it’s needed. The simple answer to that is no, the bees respiratory system is so efficient that air is directly deposited into the tissues, directly from the spiracles. After air is deposited into the tissues, the spiracles access the trachea by transferring air into it. The trachea arms widen from the air that is being pumped from the spiracle to form sacs where unused air can be stored for later use. So technically, bees have oxygen reservoir tanks. Neat, right?

Bees can also speed up the passage of air into their bodies by contracting the air sacs, thereby accelerating up the rate of oxidation. To further impress on the efficiency of a bees’ respiratory system, it should be noted that while the air sacs in bees do not have unlimited capacity, the resting bee stops taking in air while it releases carbon dioxide. This process allows the bee to keep oxygen and carbon dioxide in balanced levels in the body so as to prevent damage to the bee from too much oxygen.

Do bees drink water and do they need it to survive?

Among many, water is considered as a sign or sometimes source of life, that isn’t necessarily incorrect since living things need water to survive. Plants, animals and even insects must take in water regularly to be able to continue living. Bees aren’t exceptional, “like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water. Thus honey bees need to drink water routinely as we do” says Eric Mussen, a apiculturist. Bees also need water for other bee activities most especially as a solvent for diluting honey and pollen for the bees to swallow. Nectar can also be used as replacement for water in diluting pollen and honey. In addition to drinking and helping dilute gelatinous food, water is also very essential to the survival of bees as they need it to keep the brood nest area at the right relative humidity.

Can bees breathe underwater?

Can bees breathe under water? No they can’t, but they sure can last longer submerged underwater than most humans. Unlike humans, bees don’t breathe with a nose, they are equipped with spiracles and air sacs that resemble holes and tubes. Bees have a very fine control of the spiracle, allowing them to dictate when air is to be taken in. While underwater, bees close the openings into their bodies (the spiracles) effectively blocking water from entering into the body while underwater and they are also equipped with fine hydrophobic hairs that helps repel liquid from covering the spiracles. Due to the air sacs, bees can – for a relatively long time – tap into the stored air without having to take in air from the atmosphere. So if you’re being chased by a swarm of africanized bees, you may want to reconsider jumping into a river or a pool as a means of escape. Your reserve of oxygen will likely run out faster than their patience, unless of course you are Tom Sietas.

What do bees do in the rain?

Like most insects, bees can detect the fall in air pressure that occurs when it is about to rain. When bees detect the drop in air pressure, they tend to pack up and head for the cool safety of their hives where they bunch together to get warm. Bees who are caught out would not necessarily fly straight for the hive, at least not if it is a light rain, they’ll likely just close their spiracles and continue about their business. But if it’s a downpour, they find shelter as soon as they can because they are not able to cope with the pelting the rain administers on everything in it’s path. You’d be surprised to know that there is also competition among insects; during the rain, many insects go into hiding, effectively reducing the competition for food and other substances that are essential to the life of insects. It wouldn’t be so hard to explain why some insects are still found out in the rain, those insects are probably just more hardworking or water tolerant than their cousins.

Also, many bees, like most other insects, are ectothermic (they are cold blooded) which therefore means that the temperature of their immediate environment greatly affects their body temperature and their body temperature in turn affects their movements. When it rains, bees are generally slower, due in no small part to the cold. The warmer the bee, the faster and more efficient it is. So if you farm a hive, you may want to help regulate the temperature of the hive’s environment to suit the bees’ ectothermic condition if and when possible.

What are the different species of bees and can any breathe underwater?

It feels pleasing to think that every living thing you can think of has more than one species of its kind. For bees, there are over 20,000 known species. Most common are; bumble bees, honey bees, stingless bees etc. Of all the known species, none can breathe underwater. Since they all have seemingly identical respiratory systems, it is safe to say that none can breathe underwater. Although, bees can survive longer underwater than most humans, it still doesn’t mean they have the ability to breathe underwater. If hypothetically they were to try breathing while submerged underwater, opening the spiracles to let in the little amount of oxygen in the water into their bodies, they would bloat and die as they do not have water outlets that will be able to take away the pressure from the surrounding water.

Related Questions

Can bees have their hive underwater?

No, bees cannot have their hives under water. Because of surface tension and other basic biogical factors, any living thing that isn’t aquatic in nature would find movement very difficult underwater. Not only can bees not survive the water pressure for long, they would have to open their spiracles to let in air when their reservoir of oxygen is exhausted which will kill them as surely as if you sprayed insecticide directly onto their bodies.

Do bees thirst for water?

Yes, bees thirst for water. Water is very essential to the survival of all living organisms and bees are no different. When the temperature of a beehive becomes extremely high, the water collector leaves the hive in search of water to take back to the hive. It is interesting to note that not all bees forage for water but some selected number as in division of labor are entrusted with the task of collecting water to quench the hives and help reduce the temperature of the hive. Bees do not only take water when thirsty, they also need water to dilute gel like food substances like honey for easy feeding. Bees also need water to regulate the relative humidity of their hives.

Can bees drown?

Yes bees can drown. While they can last for a relatively short time on stored air, if they are not taken out of the water, they may eventually die once the oxygen in their air sacs is depleted.

One thought on “Can Bees Breathe Underwater? The Real Answer

  1. Thanks, good stuff to know! I’ve been taking bugs out of my pool all summer, 2-3 times a day.
    I’ve been getting a lot of flying ants and little tiny black beetles. Sometimes though, I get bees or wasps. I wanted to make sure I had things right, and I ended up learning so much more. So are there any other kinds of lungs besides these lungs and book lungs found in insects?

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