Busy, Buzzing Bees

Did You Know…?

  • that a large colony of bees may in a year’s time collect and carry into the hive as much as 1,000 pounds (one half ton) of nectar, water and pollen.
  • that when a bee has discovered a new source of food, she returns loaded with the nectar and pollen, and communicates to the other bees precise information about the location and quantity of the food source by various dance-like movements.
  • that each colony has a specific odor. Bees guarding the opening to the hive “smell-test” every bee seeking entrance to determine if she belongs to the colony.
  • that some 90 crops grown in the United States are dependent on insect pollination, primarily the honey bee.
  • that bees air condition their hives in midsummer to maintain a uniform temperature of about 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • that bees have two pairs of wings. To fly, the bee hooks the two together and doubles its wingspread. It can quickly unhook them when it wants to hover, or whirl them as an electric fan when ventilating or warming the hive.
  • that the honey bee beats its wings an incredible 15,000 times a minute (250 times a second!)
  • that a hive may contain between 20,000 and 200,000 bees.
  • that worker bees live about six weeks during the active season and do all the work of the hive, except the egg laying.
  • that the queen bee may lay as many as 2000 eggs in one day and that she determines whether the eggs will produce females or males.
  • that worker bees produce a queen bee by feeding regular larvae royal jelly.
Probably the first thought that comes to most of us when we think of the bee is of its ability to sting. The bee’s piercing needle is actually a double spear, split down the middle. The double spear is lined with barbs on each side, so that when the stinger enters the flesh, the barbs hold it fast. An ingenious weapon indeed—if the bees had to design it themselves!

But there is much more to the bees than their ability to sting. We are actually dependent on the pollinating ability of these tiny creatures for about 90 major crops grown in our nation. If the bees decided suddenly to take the summer off, a howl from the agricultural community would be heard worldwide, and all of us would feel the effects of their vacation! If there were no bees, there would be no berries, no apples, no cherries, no oranges, no cantaloupes, no cucumbers, and so on and on. Even many trees cannot reproduce without the pollinating work of the bees.

Bees and flowers form such an amazing creature-plant team that some scientist has commented, observing their interdependence, that “honey bees and flowers must have evolved about the same time.” One wonders, though, what the flowers did to keep reproducing their kind (they could not make a single seed that would grow until their blossom was somehow pollinated) until the bees learned how to pollinate them! One also wonders what the bees did before there were flowers from which they might draw nectar to make their food supply! Such simple wonders only point to the grand design of our Creator. Truly, “the hand that made us is Divine.” What chance arrangement could time precisely the slow evolution of the right species of bees and of thousands of varieties of flowers independently to coincide at the essential moment after a few million years?

In addition to being able to literally crawl inside a flower and suck its pollen, bees are actually built to carry heavy freight. In proportion to their weight, a bee is able to fly with a load equal almost to its full weight. Just imagine carrying for a number of miles a package about equal to your own weight, not only carrying it but flying with it! The bee has this amazing capability because it needs it to survive—the bee must have lifting power to transport syrup, pollen, varnish, and even water.

So our Creator has equipped the bee with short wings and a fat body. It cannot glide, as can the eagle, but it can move up and down easily, or even stand still in midair. Actually, when the bee seems to be standing still in midair, it is working very hard, beating its wings in a weaving motion. When the bee is ready to dive into a flower, in a split second it folds its stubby wings, so that they are not a hindrance to entering the flower.

The bee has two pairs of wings, so close together that they almost appear as one. For flight, the bee fastens the two together at the front, providing a double wingspread. The bee can quickly unhook and fold up its extra wings, or let them whirl as an electric fan, when it wishes. (Is this another feature which the bee “developed” when it found need for it?)

What does the bee eat? Mainly honey! And it is power-food for bees. A pinhead-sized speck of honey provides enough power to carry a bee about a quarter of a mile.

The bee has three built-in storage tanks on its body for carrying cargo. One is a tank inside its body. The other two are baskets on its hind legs, designed especially to carry pollen.

But nectar and pollen are not the only cargo the bee carries. Often the bee must carry water in its honey tank, if the hive is thirsty or hot. It may also scrape resin off sticky buds and twigs and load this into its pollen sacks. The resin is made into varnish which the bees use to coat tree hollows, making the surfaces perfectly smooth. Resin is also used to stop up cracks in the hive.

The bee fills its honey tank by sucking nectar through a tube. This sounds relatively simple. But how does the bee attach the loads of pollen to the outside of its hind legs? It cannot scoop pollen grains and toss them into baskets the way we gather apples. To load its pollen baskets, the bee moistens the pollen, places it in its leg-basket, then tamps it down, balancing approximately equal amounts on each leg. (Imagine how the bee fared while it was “perfecting” this process! Picture it trying to fly straight with a heavy weight on one leg and none on the other!)

The honeybee seems to have fresh enthusiasm for every fresh flower. Diving into the flower, it tumbles around and emerges shortly with pollen grains sticking to all the tiny feathered hairs that cover its body.

Then the bee leaves the flower, and while hovering in midair or swinging below the flower and hanging by one claw, it combs its face, the top of its head, and the back of its neck with its front legs. Even the bee’s eyes are equipped to collect pollen, with tiny hairs growing out of its eyeballs. The bee is equipped with a special soft brush to remove pollen from so delicate an area.

With a reverse gulp the bee brings a tiny speck of honey from its honey tank, which it uses to moisten the pollen. Then with its middle legs it scrapes off the middle of its body, reaching up over its back. The scrapings are caught in a comb with 9 rows of bristles. The bee then doubles up its legs and passes a tiny rake through the rows of bristles, pulling the pollen into a press made by the bee’s knee joint. When the bee bends its knees, the jaws of the press open; when it straightens its leg, the jaws close and the pollen is pressed together and pushed into the pollen basket on its leg.

What holds the pollen in the basket? The bee is equipped even for this: many curving hairs around the edge of the basket hold the bee’s bulging load of pollen securely in place during flight.

How did the bee “develop” all these intricate devices? Can we think for a moment that this is the result of mere chance? Who equipped the bee with comb, and rake, and basket?

Then we come to an even tougher problem for the bees: the art of finding flowers at the right stage of development, so that the bees can gather enough nectar and pollen to survive. How do they do it? Early in the morning a dozen bees or so from the hive are sent out as scouts in different directions across the countryside. They fly around the vicinity in ever widening circles. The scouts may search many miles. When a scout returns, it tells the others exactly what kind of flowers are open, and gives precise directions so that the other bees of the hive can find the flowers.
How do the bees communicate this information? They give very complicated instructions, it has been found, by means of a “dance” performed in front of the other bees. When one bee finds food, it describes the location of the food by the way it moves its body, by the speed at which it moves it, and by the angle of its body as it moves. The whole affair is marvelous—especially when one realizes that the “dance” is sometimes done outside the hive in sunlight, and at other times done inside the hive in the dark (and on a different plane). But even in the dark, the other bees are able to “see” the scout bee’s directions, and will immediately fly out of the hive and straight to the flowers.

Just think about the wonder of this! Imagine trying to direct a friend—and you have the ability to speak, and your friend has the ability to understand language—to the precise location of a certain patch of violets you saw in an open field about two miles distant!

Only a Divine power could give instincts like these to the lowly buzzing bees!

The whole hive is a marvel, functioning like a well governed family. Each hive has one queen bee, whose whole job is to lay eggs. She does not even have to look for food—the worker bees feed her. For although the queen may live as long as five years, worker bees live only approximately 41 days, and it is the endless job of the queen to replace them as they die off. So the queen lays between one and two thousand eggs per day.

When the queen is laying eggs, she is surrounded by a retinue of 22 bees whose entire job is to keep feeding her royal jelly. (Bees perform very specific tasks according to their age—the glands in their bodies actually change as they get older so that they change in capability—how did the bees accomplish this wonder on their own!) Royal jelly can be made only in the heads of adolescent bees. As they pass the twelve-day old mark, they are replaced with younger bees, about 6 days old.

If a queen dies or does not lay enough eggs, the worker bees make a new queen. To do this, they physically stretch a few comb cells containing eggs to enlarge them, and these are fed all the royal jelly they can eat. The first queen bee to emerge (about 15 days later) immediately kills all the other “queen” larvae, so that she is supreme. The bees keep feeding her royal jelly, and as soon as she flies off with a drone and returns she is ready to lay eggs—for the rest of her life.

Honeybee Queen cells
Do we marvel at the laws God built into the creation around us? Truly, the hand that made—and sustains us—is Divine!
Scientific Data in this Article was taken from:

  • The Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, copyright 1987, Vol. 21 pp.661ff
  • Secrets of Life Stamp Book, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, pp. 12ff.
  • Color Photos from Wikipedia.org