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Is A Bee An Insect Or A Bug?

By Antonia Čirjak January 31 2020

A bee is an insect, and it belongs to class Insecta.
A bee is an insect, and it belongs to class Insecta.

Is a bee an insect, or is it a bug? We use words like insects or bugs in everyday language almost interchangeably, but rarely anyone other than entomologists thinks about those classifications. The short answer is yes, a bee is an insect, and it belongs to class Insecta, but why do we need to ask such a question in the first place?

Why Do We Mix Bugs And Insects?

Entomologists would say that the biggest reason why people mistake insects for bugs is due to classification issues and because it's an easier way to interpret and communicate the world around us. Everything small, flies, or walks around, and bothers us is a bug to us. The scientific truth is, all bugs are insects, but not all insects are what we call bugs.

Insect's branch into different categories, and the further we go, the more similar those species are. Take ants, for example; they are grouped with bees because they share certain similarities like the structure of the body, social life, and how they process their food.

How Can We Know If An Insect Is A Bug? 

To get an answer to those questions and the way insect classification works, we need to look a little bit deeper into the actual physiological structure of the insects. One common tell sign is the overlapping of their wings. For example, when at rest, the wings of a bug will overlap over their backs while the wings of a bee will be flat on their sides. Insects like bees and mosquitos usually have two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. They also have three distinct body parts.

We can also look at the shape and the function of the insect's mouth. Looking at the proboscis - the drinking part of an insect's mouth, we can discover if it is retractable or straight. Bees have retractable mouths that suck and drink food, while true bugs like aphids and weevils have straight mouthparts to make a puncture to obtain their food. 

Why Is It Important Which Word We Use To Describe Bees?

In a grand scheme of things, it is important because of our attitude towards nature and the environment. While we may think that calling a bee a bug is not that wrong; it is factually incorrect and also plays towards the everyday notion of treating a bug as something bothersome or annoying. We think of a bug as something that does not need to be (pun intended) around us or needs to be killed. For example, bed bugs can cause a wide variety of negative impacts on our health, and bugs like aphids can damage plants on which they feed.

The truth is that bees are invaluable creatures that tremendously benefit our ecosystem. Bees use pollination so that the plants we eat can grow and breed. We would not be able to live how we live and eat everything we eat without bees. Consider it next time you want to kill a bee or disregard it as a mere "bug."

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