How to Identify A Honey Bee Using A Wing Vein

There are a lot of bee species coexisting with us in this world. As small as they are, they make a significant impact on our lives. Specifically, honey bees, they are a great source of livelihood in our agricultural industry. However, how can we identify a honey bee if we cannot even differentiate them from other bee species? In this article, we will identify them together and learn about their benefits in our society.

How to Identify a Honey Bee Using A Wing Vein? You only need to recognize the forewing and its marginal cell, which is one of the outermost wing cells in a bee’s forewing. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) usually have a marginal cell that is round at the edge, long, narrow and slender.

Step by step guide to identify a bee species through its wings

Honey bee

  • Choose a bee from your colony.
  • Look at the bee’s wings and locate the forewing.
  • Use an insect tweezers and carefully spread the wing.
  • You can either use a magnifying glass or for a more modern way, a high definition camera to look at the wing.
  • Locate the marginal cell and take note of the shape.
  • If the shape is elongated and narrow, then you have a honey bee on your hand.

Warning: If the bee you are working on is alive, prepare yourself for some fight and also for the possibility of getting stung. Another thing to know is that Africanized honey bees have the same marginal cell appearance with regular honey bees. Further analysis of the bee’s wing is needed to identify if the bee you are currently dealing with is an Africanized Honey Bee species.

The Anatomy of Honey Bee wings

The wings of the honey bees have two parts, namely forewing and hindwing. It is also composed of a thin expanse of membrane supported by branching rods called veins. This is initially a hollow outgrowth of the body wall which becomes flattened out. To further know, let us dissect each part of their wings.

Wing Vein

The wing vein is like a rod that supports the membrane. The first vein is called costa, which forms the anterior of the margin. The next vein, which is divided into two branches, is called subcosta. The third and principal vein is the radius which divides into five branches. The next vein, which is branched out into four, is called media. And the fifth vein, which is again branched into two, is called cubitus.

In addition, there are also several cross-veins which should be identified. The first is located near the base of the wing between costa and subcosta veins. This looks like an intersectional vein and is called humeral cross-vein. The second is situated between the radius and media near the center of wing called radio-medial cross-vein. Another is medio-cubital also located between media and cubitus. While the fourth is called the median, which is situated between the second and third branches of media. The areas within the wing surface enclosed by veins, cross-veins and margins are called cells which will be discussed next.

Wing Vein Pattern

Vein patterns on bees’ wings are one way to identify different species of bees. Their wings have three layers. The top and bottom layers are similar to our fingernails’ cuticle yet thinner compared to ours. The middle layer has nerves and blood vessels, which is called hemolymph. If you see slender shaped wing pattern on a bee’s wings, you are looking at ”Apis Mellifera” scientific name for ”honey-bearer” or ”honey-gatherer.” Thus, they are called honey bees. To further gain knowledge in identifying them, let us examine their wings and other unique characteristics which marks them as a honey bee.  

Marginal cell

The marginal cell of a honey bee is located on the upper edge part of the forewing and has a long slender shape. This is one of the most effective ways of identifying the species of bees. No matter how old the bee gets and how tattered the wings get, the marginal cell can always be the best way to identify a bee.

Marginal cell and wing shapes of other bee species

In relation to not confusing other species of bees with honey bees, we must also know the characteristics of the other bee’s marginal cells. It is also worth mentioning that the bees’ wings are very durable. It stays intact long after the bees have died, which is why many use this to identify the species.


These have a very irregular shaped marginal cell when compared to honey bees. If you compare a photo of both the bumblebee and honey bee wings, you’ll instantly see that a bumblebees marginal cell is shorter and has one narrow end and one wide end.

Carpenter Bees

Compared to a honey bees marginal cell, the carpenter bees have a longer but more angular shape in its marginal cell. The honey bees have smooth marginal cell edges with round ends while the carpenter bees are long and have narrowed ends.

Other ways to Identify a Honey bee

Anatomy of a Honey Bee

First, to know how we can identify a honey bee using their wing vein, we have to familiarize ourselves with their anatomy. Their body is segmented into five categories, namely stinger, legs, antenna, thorax, and the abdomen. The head consists of the antenna, eyes, and feeding structure.


The antennae are called the powerhouse which provides a function of the sense of touch, smell, taste, and hearing. It also has mechanoreceptors, which allow them to respond with sounds. Aside from antennae, they possess two sets of eyes, mainly called compound and simple. Each eye is composed of many units.

These units are separated images which signals the brain into one single image. It helps honey bees see the world in polarized sight. Aside from compound eyes, it also possesses three simple eyes which collects UV light. This light allows the honey bee spot to the pollen, so they know where to go. Moreover, they also have a feeding structure called mandibles. This is used to aid in cutting, biting, and collecting nectar from flowers.


The body consists of the thorax, which is the midsection of a honey bee focused on locomotion. This has six legs and two pairs of wings which control their movement. The wings are composed of a fore wing and a hind wing. They both help in flight lifting off an insect at 15 miles per hour. Furthermore, they also consist of three pairs of legs useful in cleaning the antenna and pollen accumulation. Pollen basket is where they put the collected pollens. This is also attached to hind legs consisting of hair in structure.


This is where their reproductive organs lie. For queen bees, they have spermatheca, which is used to store sperm. For drones, their sexual organs are used once. It is ripped off after mating, which can lead to their cause of death. Another one is called a wax gland. This secretes a liquified wax which hardens when exposed to air. And lastly, the stinger, is a part of their abdomen that is useful for their defense. Honey bees will sting as their last resort for they usually die whenever they use it.

Other Unique Characteristics of a Honey Bee

There are three types of honey bee; the queen, workers, and drones. Only the queen lays eggs in hives usually amounting to 1500 eggs per day. In each hive, there is only one egg-laying queen, but there are thousands of workers. The queen honey bees mate with drones so they can establish new colonies and lay eggs.

On the other hand, drones, are the male bees in a colony and serve only one purpose, which is to mate with virgin honey bee queens. Soon after mating, the drones die. Also, the duty of workers is to sweep flakes of wax on their abdomen and chew this until it is soft. They mold the wax and use it to build the hive. Moreover, they do not hibernate during cold seasons. Instead, they stay inside the hive to heat themselves while feeding on stored food.

Identifying bees by location

Honey bees can be found worldwide and in different locations, like in Europe and the United States. They also usually swarm together to find another nesting spot which takes them about 24 hours. Bees mean no harm when swarming. However, they can be aggressive whenever provoked. They thrive both in a natural or domestic environment if given proper care and plenty of food source. Yet more likely they prefer to live where there are flowering plants for pollination.

They build nests inside trees to protect themselves from potential predators. Moreover, they are pushed to develop bigger hives on areas with a colder climate. The bigger the hive, the better, so that they can insulate themselves well. On the other hand, honey bees in tropical weather do not need to build bigger colonies. They swarm base on the abundance of food in a location.

Identifying bees by their hive and behavior

Bumblebees are social bees like honey bees. However, honey bees form a larger colony while bumblebees form a much smaller one. Honey bee colonies can reach up to 80,000 bees while bumblebee hives up to a mere 400 bees only. Another popular bee species is the carpenter bee. This species is considered as a solitary bee because only the male and female are present in a nest. The female is responsible for taking care of the larvae and the male patrols the entrance to their nest.

In terms of where their nests are located, honey bees often nest in hollowed out tree trunks but can sometimes be found in attics and unused chimneys. When honey bees sense danger, they locate their target and swarm towards it. Bumblebees, are more of a ground-nesting type of bees but can occasionally be found under roof beams or inside attics too. They would buzz very loud and exhibit aggressive behavior when provoked.

Carpenter bees love to make their nests in softwood and other similar materials. The female would tunnel through the wood and lay eggs there. It may look like a small tunnel, but these tunnels can be as deep as 10 feet into the wood. Several rooms within the tunnel nest are present where they hold their larvae and also stored food.

Why are Honey bees important to identify?

Its no wonder why beekeepers prefer honey bee over other species of bees. And no wonder why they are careful in identifying one because honey bees have an enormous economic importance to our agriculture. Some of the benefits we get from them are pollination, production of honey, beeswax, royal jelly, propolis and bee pollen. To briefly give you insight, we will discuss each of them and their benefits.


Honey bees are important pollinators. They pollinate in a wide variety of food plants. Pollination is when pollen grains are transferred from one plant to another which results to fertilizing the ovaries of flowers, Honey bees do a great job in pollinating plants that is why having them significantly contributes to our agriculture.


This is one of the important ingredients in meals, pastries, and drinks. Some people use this as an alternative and healthy replacement for sugar. This is also useful for treating sore throat and coughs and even skin conditions. This also serves as an antioxidant helpful in preventing cancers. Raw and unprocessed honey may contain bacteria and fungi, this is unsafe for individuals with a weaker immune system such as sick, elderly, or infants.


This is said to be a more important resource than honey. It has been used to manufacture candles. Its waxy form makes an effective sealant from moisture. It is not toxic and could be eaten; that is why this is commonly used for sealing cheeses and preserves.

Royal jelly, propolis and bee pollen

Propolis is a material used by bees to seal small cracks in the hive. Some findings have also certified this offering multiple health benefits such as potent action against harmful pathogens. Also, bee pollen that is stored by bees can make a good source of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids for us. And lastly, royal jelly is the white milky secretion made by honey bees. This contains water, proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins, salts, and amino acids also beneficial for our health. It can be used for various illnesses such as asthma, hay fever, liver disease, sleep troubles, premenstrual syndrome, and many more. This is also useful for boosting our immune system and fights the effects of aging.


And so, it is vital to identify a honey bee because not only do they differ in other bee species, they also play an important role in our lives. Different ways can be used to identify the species of bees, but one of the most effective methods is through the marginal cells in a bees’ wing. Another reason why it is important to identify a honey bee is for the purpose of knowing if the hive you are studying might be an Africanized honey bee colony. This type of bee species is very dangerous and therefore is important to have experts address it immediately.

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