Do Bees Have Lungs?

Bees' respiratory system are made up of the tracheal sacs, spiracles and the trachea

While bees can breathe and have their own respiratory system, they do not have lungs as humans do. Instead, bees have structures called tracheal sacs that they breathe through. These sacs are foundational to their complex respiratory system.

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    Do Bees Breathe?

    Bees breathe through the use of their tracheal sacs. Before oxygen can reach these sacs, it must first travel through two other structures: the spiracles and the trachea. Once oxygen has been transported through these two systems into the tracheal sacs, bees can begin breathing as their abdomen begins to contract.

    How Do Bees Breathe?

    Bees breathe through a complex process involving many different structures.

    Bees start the breathing process by pulling air through ten pairs of holes that are located on their thorax and abdomen. These holes are called spiracles, and air passes through them to enter a bee’s body. Seven of these holes are located on the abdomen of a bee, with one more specifically located in the sting chamber. The other three spiracles can be found in the thorax.

    Once it has made its way through the spiracles, fresh oxygen can then enter the trachea, not to be confused with the tracheal sacs. The trachea is a tube-like structure that runs throughout the body of a bee, connecting spiracles to tracheal sacs, allowing oxygen to flow between the two structures.

    After being transported through the trachea, oxygen then enters the tracheal sacs. These sacs function by the constant constricting of a bee’s abdomen. This motion allows fresh air to continually be pumped in and out of these sacs.

    Through these three processes, bees are able to breathe similarly to humans.

    Do Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide Travel Through the Honeybee’s Bloodstream?

    The respiratory system functions similarly to that of humans, as it acquires fresh oxygen while also expelling carbon dioxide from the body. This is an often overlooked but essential function of the system.

    internal anatomy of a bee
    Bees inhale and exhale air by contracting and expanding their abdomen

    What Are Tracheal Sacs?

    Tracheal sacs are essentially air sacs. These sacs receive air from the trachea, which has previously received air from the spiracles.

    Tracheal sacs are located in the head of a bee. They can also be found throughout the body of a bee, more specifically in their thorax and abdomen. In the abdomen specifically, bees have two very large tracheal sacs that can hold a very large amount of oxygen compared to the others. 

    It is important that bees have a large quantity of these sacs as it ensures that every part of the creature will receive an adequate amount of oxygen.

    Tracheal sacs work by expanding and contracting, depending on how much oxygen a bee currently needs. When a bee breathes, it continuously constricts its abdomen. This process causes fresh air to enter the tracheal sacs as carbon dioxide is pushed out.

    The constant constricting and relaxing of the abdomen are what allows the bee to essentially breathe.

    What Is a Trachea?

    The trachea is a long tube structure located in the body of a bee. While tracheal sacs do a lot of the work in allowing a bee to breathe properly, the trachea is incredibly important as well, since they make sure that oxygen actually reaches the tracheal sacs after being inhaled through the spiracles.

    The trachea is located all around the inside of a bee. These tubes connect the spiracles to the tracheal sacs, so it is vital that they are able to reach every part of a bee’s body.

    The trachea is divided into small and large tubes, depending on how far they have to transport oxygen away from the spiracles. It is very flexible and is able to twist around the insides of a bee in order to take oxygen where it needs to go.

    The surface of the trachea is made of chitin or a spiral fold of chitin. This material helps the trachea maintain their shape and structure, while still allowing them to be flexible in nature.

    Where Does Gas Exchange During Low Activity and High Activity?

    Gas in general diffuses from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. This act of diffusion helps the trachea transport oxygen to the tracheal sacs, as it will partly flow to them naturally.

    Air exchange is often governed by the abdomen in insects. The faster and stronger than an insect constricts their abdomen, the more oxygen it will receive.

    Bee Vision Front
    While underwater, bees close the spiracles effectively blocking water from entering into the body

    What Are Spiracles?

    Spiracles are tiny holes located along the body of a bee. Bees have ten pairs of spiracles in total. Spiracles allow oxygen to enter the body of a bee from the outside world. Spiracles have valves inside of them that work to allow only the correct amount of oxygen inside.

    Seven of the ten pairs of spiracles can be found on the abdomen of the bee. One of these seven is actually found in the sting chamber, which is down lower on the abdomen. The other three pairs of spiracles are located along the thorax.

    How Do Spiracles Work?

    Spiracles help with air intake. They do so with the following:

    1. Spiracles take in fresh air from the outside.
    2. Valves inside the spiracles help to control this airflow as it goes in and out of the bee.
    3. Air taken in through the spiracles is sent into the trachea, which transports it to the tracheal sacs.


    Spiracles are complicated structures, but they are essential to the bee’s respiratory system.

    Each pair has a slightly different function:

    • Each pair of spiracles is connected to the trachea;
    • When a spiracle collects oxygen, it delivers it to the trachea;
    • The trachea then transports this oxygen through the bee’s body into the tracheal sacs.


    This complex structure helps to regulate airflow in bees.

    Do Other Insects Have Lungs?

    Other insects also do not breathe as humans do. Instead, they have similar respiratory systems as bees, breathing through the use of spiracles and trachea. While the specific details of each insect’s respiratory system may differ, many have the same overall design and function.

    do bees have lungs mites
    Tracheal mites are parasitic mites that can live and even reproduce in the respiratory system of a bee - Credit: USDA

    What Is a Tracheal Mite?

    Tracheal mites are parasitic mites that can sometimes be found in the respiratory systems of bees, where they can cause major disruptions. They survive by feeding on the blood of bees, and they often reproduce inside the trachea as well.

    Tracheal mites are extremely small creatures. These mites are microscopic, and they are about as long as 1.5x the diameter of human hair. These mites live inside the trachea of a bee, so they must be incredibly small in order to navigate inside of them. Their small size also makes them difficult to get rid of, since bees cannot simply sting or bite them.

    What Happens When a Tracheal Mite Attacks a Honey Bee?

    When a tracheal mite gets inside a honey bee’s respiratory system, it can infect the trachea. These mites will also begin to reproduce inside these tubes, dramatically increasing the number of mites in a bee’s body. They can even feed on the blood of honeybees as well.

    Tracheal mite infections can cause numerous problems for a honeybee. These include damaging a bee’s ability to breathe properly and reducing overall airflow to wing muscles that are vital for flight.

    This infection also makes it easier for other infections to appear on the tracheal surface. These effects significantly damage a bee’s ability to function and work properly.

    Why Are Tracheal Mites Dangerous to Honey Bee Colonies?

    Tracheal mites have the potential to wipe out an entire bee colony if combined with the right factors. Other diseases or lack of resources, when paired with a tracheal mite infection, can destroy a whole colony.

    Bees do not have any way of expelling a tracheal mite infection from the colony. This is why they can be so deadly; once they are present, they can be nearly impossible to get rid of. Tracheal mites are often more deadly to colonies in the winter and early spring.

    This is due to the behaviour of bees during this time, which sees them huddle up very close together in the hive to conserve warmth. This behaviour is beneficial to bees, but it also allows tracheal mites to easily move from one bee to another.

    While tracheal mite infections can still be harmful in the summer and fall months, in the winter and spring they have the potential to significantly cut down the numbers of a colony.

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