It’s supposed to be a theoretical impossibility that bees are capable of flight.
I was in a deep and profound state of relaxation when this aerodynamic absurdity entered the lounge and started zipping around my head as I slumbered on the couch. Peace is a precious commodity at home and I can’t explain the sense of joy I was experiencing: mid morning with sunlight and an August breeze tickling me as I slept to a re-run of Sunday’s PGA golf.
The French scientists, who almost 80 years ago examined the honey bee and calculated that with its small wings and relatively large body it had no chance of getting airborne, must have realized that somewhere their mathematics was in a muddle. It’s only recently that researchers have discovered that it’s a combination of rotating wings and a staggering 240 wing beats a second that have delivered this celebrated insect to the windowsill by my head.
Awake and slightly annoyed, I tried to shoo the little bugger away, but even though a honeybee can navigate using its ‘sun compass’ and travel distances of up to 3km, it remains to me a mystery as to why they can’t get out of a big window. Somehow after 20 minutes we were still stuck together and somehow I hadn’t been stung either, so I started watching it and then to the detriment of any further sleep, thinking about it.
My wife has recently had to do an exam that covers subjects varying from snail plumbing to moon dynamics. One of the more interesting questions was: “what is the purpose of a bee losing its life after stinging someone?”
Think about it for a second…
What is the purpose of a bee losing its life after stinging someone?” Giving this some thought makes me come to the conclusion that this must be some sort of evolutionary mistake?
So, firstly why does a bee die after stinging someone?
Honeybee stings are barbed so that when a soft fleshy animal is stung the barbs stick in the flesh and a venom sac and a muscular apparatus is torn from the bee. Having its innards removed effectively kills the bee although not immediately. The muscular apparatus continues to ensure that venom from the sac is pumped into the tissue long after the bee has gone. This has the effect of maximizing the pain that the sting induces
A possible advantage of this is that with the sting attached to the victim and with the associated apparatus dangling free, pheromones are released that help other bees identify the threat. If bees had a withdrawable sting then the theory is that each individual would have to separately identify the problem leading to a much slower swarm response. As it is, bees just need to look for someone or something in mild discomfort with a sting for a flag neatly attached to the skin or fur and attack there.
But the why and how has nothing to do with the purpose and I still don’t get it. Wouldn’t it be a little smarter if that whole apparatus (sting and venom pump) weren’t critical to a bee’s survival? Then they could just grow the whole thing back while still foraging for pollen.
The reason why the evolutionary mistake is not an issue is because the bee isn’t important to the hive’s survival. Worker bees are sterile and it’s the queen that carries all the important genetic information. No-one cares whether the little worker bee returns or not so long as it has made its defense of the hive.
So having established all of this I had come to the conclusion that squashing the little irritant in the defense of my home and nap wouldn’t be all together a bad thing given this individual bee’s station in life and evolution’s seeming indifference to its survival.
But then I remembered a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”
I also read somewhere that he never actually said it, nevertheless with that in mind, and quite certain that the whole bee business is too complicated for me I ultimately decided to let buzzing bees be. You should too.
Written by: Tom Imrie