honey bee, spermatheca

Spermatheca of honey bee queen. After Snodgrass (1956, fig. 106ab) [1].

b - duct of spermathecal gland
d - spermathecal duct
m - muscles of spermathecal duct (marked red)
Odl - oviduct
Spt - spermatheca
SptGld - spermathecal gland
Vag - vagina

Spermatheca (plural: spermathecae), also called receptaculum seminis, is a circular sack which is connected with oviduct by spermathecal duct (ductus spermaticus). It is fully developed only in queens. In workers it is vestigial and non functional even in laying workers [2]. The below description refers to queen's spermatheca.
Before mating the spermatheca is filled with spermathecal fluid produced by tubular spermathecal gland. At this time it is translucent. After mating the spermatheca is filled with spermatozoa and it becomes opaque with whitish marble pattern. Diameter of the spermatheca is about 1.1 millimetres. For details of anatomy see [3][4][5][6].
For fertilization of a single egg queen releases the same volume of spermathecal fluid which is equal 1/153000 of spermathecal volume [7]. With time this volume contains smaller number of spermatozoa. A the beginning of life the number of released spermatozoa is 30-35 but after deposition of 63000 eggs the number of spermatozoa released for every egg drops to about 20 [8].
Other references: [9][10]


  1. Snodgrass R.E. (1956) Anatomy of the honey bee. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, pp. 334.
  2. Anderson R.H. (1963) The laying worker in the Cape honey bee, Apis mellifera capensis. J. Apic. Res. 2:85-92.
  3. Bresslau E. (1905) Der Samenblasengang der Bienenkönigin. Zoologischer Anzeiger 29:299-323.
  4. Adam A. (1912) Bau und Mechanismus des Receptaculum seminis bei den Bienen, Wespen, and Ameisen. Zoologische Jahrbücher - Abteilung für Anatomie und Ontogenie der Tiere 35:1-74.
  5. Camargo J.M.F., Mello M.L.S. (1970) Anatomy and histology of the genital tract, spermatheca, spermathecal duct and glands of Apis mellifica queens (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Apidologie 1:351-374.
  6. Dallai R. (1975) Fine structure of the spermatheca of Apis mellifera. Journal of Insect Physiology 21:89–109.
  7. Harbo J.R. (1979) The rate of depletion of spermatozoa in the queen honeybee spermatheca. J. Apic. Res. 18:204-207.
  8. Koeniger G. (1986) Reproduction and mating behavior. in: Rinderer T.E. (Ed.), Bee genetics and breeding. Academic Press, Orlando, pp. 255-275.
  9. Poole H.K. (1970) The wall structure of the honey bee spermatheca with comments about its function. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 63:1625–1628.
  10. Poole H.K. (1972) The effect of tracheal interruption on the spermathecal wall of the queen honey bee. Proceedings of the Society for experimental biology and medicine 139:701–703.