What Colour Are Bees’ Wings? – The Answer Is Surprising!

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In my opinion, bees are among some of the most beautiful insects on the planet. With more than 20,000 species, there’s certainly a uniqueness among them but have you ever looked closely at a bee? If you have, you might have wondered what color are bees’ wings.

Bees’ wings are actually translucent in color which is one of the ways that you can tell them apart from similar insects, like paper wasps, whose wings are often black.

Bees’ wings are a truly fascinating part of their bodies and it isn’t just the translucent color that grabs the attention. In fact, the very structure of bee’s wings and the way they use them is cause for amazement. Let’s explore further.

Bee Wing Appearance

Look closely at a bee’s wings and you will see that they lack color. While not totally see-through, the wings of a bee tend to be more translucent. You’ll even be able to see little veins running through the wings.

The size of the wings largely depends on the species of bee we’re talking about but, in most cases, they’ll be somewhere between 9 mm and 10 mm in length. That said, the forewings are typically longer and stronger than the hindwings.

It’s also worth noting that bees have unique patterns on their wings and this is a great way to tell species apart. What’s really interesting is that the pattern may be the same across a species but doesn’t differ between individuals. Studies have shown that, in the case of the honey bee, wing patterns are as good as identical between individuals.

What Are Bees’ Wings Made Of?

Bees’ wings are made from a naturally occurring protein called chitin. Which is pronounced kite-in and this is something that is commonly found in the physiology of insects.

Chitin is a fibrous substance which, on face value, doesn’t look very strong. But it’s the same stuff that makes up the exoskeletons of crustaceans and the hard shells of many insects like beetles and ladybugs.

In the case of bees’ wings, they’re very fine but that chitin, along with several veins, is what gives the wings their strength and structure. In fact, over the course of a bee’s life, their wings could carry them more than 500 miles before they start to deteriorate.

If you look at an older bee then there’s a good chance that their wings may be battered, torn, or otherwise worn. But this isn’t usually because of an injury but because of general wear and tear.

The Structure Of Bees’ Wings

While bees’ wings may look incredibly fine, they are actually made up of three layers. The first layer could be compared to your nail cuticle and is a very thin membrane while the middle layer is where the veins and nerves can be found. This second layer is essentially sandwiched between the first and third layer, with the third being the same membranous fiber as the first. This acts as a form of protection to that important middle layer.

The wings of a bee are also surprisingly flexible and that’s because they contain a stretchy protein known as resilin. This is found in the wing joints and allows not only for ease of movement, but also reduces potential damage during impact.

It’s amazing that a bee could fly into a solid object and the wings would not be damaged. So, don’t let that delicate appearance fool you; bees’ wings are far stronger and more robust than you might have imagined.

Bee Wing Uses: Clue, They’re Not Just Used For Flying

Of course, the primary reason that bees have wings is for flight and, as I mentioned earlier, these amazing creatures can fly up to 500 miles during their lifetime. Considering that they’re so small and only live for a few weeks to a couple of months, that’s pretty impressive!

When they’re flying, bees will beat their wings more than 230 times per second and it’s this that causes the buzz that lets you know a bee is nearby. But flying is not the only way that bees use their wings. In fact, they’re one of the most diverse parts of their bodies.

As is the case with many creatures, communication is often done in the form of movement. This is where the bees use their wings to tell others about local food sources. You may be familiar with the waggle dance which honey bees do when they find a prime foraging location. Not only do they move their bodies in a certain manner but their wings are included in this dance, allowing other members of the hive to precisely find the location of the food.

For honey bees, the wings come in incredibly handy when making honey and that’s because they’ll flap their wings to dehydrate the nectar they collect when out foraging. But before this happens, the bees will allow the nectar to travel through their digestive systems which removes a lot of the water within it. Once they’ve done this, the resulting honey is stored in honeycomb cells and is fanned by the bees’ wings to fully dehydrate it.

Flapping their wings isn’t just useful for dehydrating honey. Bees will also move them to control their body temperature. This is essential when it comes to flying as they need to be at a temperature of 85ºF to even take off. I once rescued a bee from my swimming pool and placed it on the wall to dry off. Not only was this beautiful creature using its legs and wings to remove water from itself but its wings were also vibrating to warm it up ready for flight.

They’ll use this same technique to control the temperature within the hive which is essential when it comes to caring for the brood and the queen. Furthermore, by doing this, the bees are able to keep the hive well ventilated.

My Bees Have Colored Wings; Is There Something Wrong?

If you’re a beekeeper then you’ll be familiar with the concept of regularly checking your hive to ensure the bees are in good health and producing enough honey.

I have read stories on the internet of beekeepers that have become worried when seeing the wings of some of their bees appear to have taken on a new hue.

But this largely isn’t a cause for concern.

When bees go out foraging, they will often get covered in pollen. Many species have pollen baskets on the legs but this isn’t the only place that pollen will be deposited.

You’ll often see this fine dust all over their bodies, including on their wings. Depending on the plant that they’ve visited, the pollen could be a variety of different colors.

For example, if they’ve been buzzing around a horse chestnut tree, the pollen will be brown. On the other hand, if your bees have been enjoying the delights of more than 75% of flowering plant species, the pollen will likely be yellow to white in color.

Final Thoughts

The world of bees’ wings is a truly fascinating one. While these structures may look delicate, they’re actually one of the strongest parts of the bee’s body. People have often asked me what color are bees wings but the truth is that they’re totally colorless and translucent in nature.

Bees use their wings for far more than just flying, making them one of the most important and versatile parts of their bodies.