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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a!
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Elegant and Efficient Bee

(diagram from How Stuff Works.com)
As May approaches (Master Beekeeper test) I am studying as often as I can about the elegant and efficient bee. Today I learned all about bee bodies. The bee is an elegant creature. Her exoskeleton is purposive and each segment appears to have a function.

Having an exoskeleton protects the bee from enemy attack, prevents water loss and allows function of all three regions of the bee. First is the head which includes the mouthparts, glands, eyes, antennae and hair (sensory organs).

The thorax has three legs attached - beautifully - one to each of the three segments of the thorax - isn't that elegant? So the head is about sensation and the thorax is about movement (it also contains the two pairs of wings connected by hooks called hamuli. The thorax allows the bee to fly, collect pollen and walk on walls.

The last segment is the abdomen with seven segments. In addition to organs of digestion, honey stomach and sexual organs, the abdomen part includes the memorable sting.

This is not a biology chapter, so I won't go into all the fascinating details except for one. The pollen basket is an amazing mechanical event. It's actually not a basket, but rather an area on the bees' hind legs. The pollen basket (also called the corbicula) is a concave area with a central bristle for attaching the pollen and hairs all around its edges. The bee collects pollen purposively as well as simply by having pollen attach to any body hair.

Here's where the elegance and efficiency begin: The forelegs brush the pollen from the head and front of the thorax. In the air the bee transfers the pollen from her front legs to her middle legs. In flight the bee brushes her middle legs against her hind legs, compacting the pollen into a ball and pressing it into the "pollen basket."

Not only is the bee efficient in flight, working all the while to move the pollen to its proper storage place, but she also removes the pollen from her pollen basket and deposits it into a cell once she is back in the hive. Then the house bees begin their work of packing the pollen into the cells.

Yesterday NPR had a segment on Morning Edition about Volkswagen. Volkswagen is in the process of introducing a car that will get 170 miles to the gallon. In a wonderful tongue-in-cheek article, Morning Edition compared the VW's new car to the efficiency of a bee, who can get almost 5 million miles to a gallon of honey! Wonder how the VW would be at collecting nectar and packing pollen into a corbicula while going through the air with the greatest of ease and efficiency!

I am in such admiration of the bee's elegant and efficient functioning in the world.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Linda!

    I love this post. You are speaking my language (biology)! Bees are definitely elegant to the nth degree.

    I'm laughing while listening to your link to the Bees Humiliate Humans link - bees are really that good. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good luck! Think I'm going to go for journeyman this year, can't even imagine the master test.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous10:22 PM

    I truly enjoyed that segment on NPR, our favorite radio station around here. My husband was laughing also.

    Let them try and build a car as efficient as a bee, Ha Ha

    Sincerely
    Annette from Placerville California

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