Honeybees: One of God’s Sweetest Designs

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Life as a Honeybee

We’ve all heard the phrase “busy as a bee.” The aptly named worker bees literally work themselves to death. In the barren winter, they may live several months, but in the work season when flowers are blooming, they may die after only a few weeks outside the hive. Their lives are cut short from the rigors of flying—sometimes dozens of miles each day. During its frenetic working lifetime, a single worker bee may add merely one-twelfth of a teaspoon of prized honey to its colony. Yet the power of the bee is in the cooperation of the colony. Together, an industrious colony may produce 150 pounds of honey during a year’s warm season.

The most unique display of cooperation is how honeybees dance to communicate the location of food sources. To give directions to fellow foragers, the bee performs the waggle dance in a figure-eight pattern. First, the returned bee trots over a number of cells. Then, the bee swings around in a half circle to come back to its starting point before completing a mirror image on the opposite side. The bee may make dozens of circuits. During the straight run, the bee’s tail wags rhythmically. The distance to the food source is measured by the number of wags, and the importance is measured by the excitement of the waggle. The foraging bee will also pass samples of nectar to other bees. The food scent remaining on the dancing bee helps searching bees know when they have found the correct source.

Most specifically, the angle of the bee’s straight run on the hive shows the bees the precise angle at which to fly relative to the sun. If the bee runs straight up the hive, the bees head straight into the sun. If the bee runs 60 degrees to the left, the bees will fly at a 60-degree angle to the left of the sun. A bee even makes compensation as the sun’s position changes through the passing of time. Thus, the bees can fly directly to a food source by decoding the waggle dance.

Once it finds a food source, the honeybee flies efficiently from flower to flower. Flowers produce sugary nectar, which attracts the bee. In exchange, the bee collects the flower’s pollen on its tiny hairs through an electrostatic charge. Roughly one third of humanity’s food source depends on insects like bees for pollination. The bee periodically grooms itself, collecting the pollen into a holding basket on its legs. This collected pollen nourishes the brood growing in the hive.

Bee with Flower

To change the nectar into honey, the bees first regurgitate the nectar. They add an enzyme called invertase, converting the sucrose to fructose and glucose. The bees fan the sugary liquid with their wings to evaporate the water content. Being denser than nectar, honey takes up less room in the hive, and is stable because of the high sugar content. While bees use some of their vast honey stores, these hardworking creatures can produce far more honey than they consume, much to the delight of people throughout history who have harvested honey.

Snapshot

  • Three main bee types compose the colony: the queen, drones, and worker bees. The sole queen is responsible for continually laying eggs in the comb cells. During her lifetime of several years, she lays thousands and thousands of eggs—sometimes 2,000 per day. When she is about to die, the decreasing level of chemical pheromones she releases alerts the worker bees to raise a new queen. A queen bee comes from the same type of fertilized egg as any ordinary worker bee. What causes her morphological change is that the worker bees feed her a diet rich in royal jelly. Worker bees wait hand and foot on the queen, feeding and cleaning her and getting cells ready for her eggs.
  • Drones come from unfertilized eggs. The queen lays an unfertilized egg when the worker bees make the cells a tad bigger for those eggs. Drones are smaller than the queen yet bigger than the worker bees. From late winter to early fall, a healthy colony will have hundreds of drones, which mate with the queen as well as keep the brood warm and the hive working properly.
  • Bees progress through several stages of life. The worker bee begins as a fertilized egg that the queen lays in a honeycomb cell. After three days, the egg hatches as a larva. The larva molts every 24 hours, while the worker bees keep all the hungry larvae fed. After a few days of the larva’s growth, the worker bee seals off the larva’s cell. Inside its cocoon, the larva becomes a pupa. Twenty-one days after the egg was first laid, the adult worker bee crawls out of the cell.
  • Bee Flying to Flower Animation
  • Worker bees make up the largest percentage of the hive population, which often numbers around 75,000. Worker bees spend the first half of their adult lives inside the hive. During the first couple days, the worker bee cleans out cells. Then, the “janitor” graduates to become a nurse bee, feeding larvae for the next several days. After its glands are worn out of producing royal jelly, the bee moves on to manufacture the wax for building the honeycomb. It also stores the nectar and pollen that foraging bees bring back to the hive, converting the nectar into honey. The experienced worker bee may then become a guard bee, protecting the hive from attack. Around the third week of the honeybee’s adult life, it sets out on its ultimate mission: finding flowers filled with sweet nectar.
  • If a bee colony grows beyond the capacity of the hive, the queen leads a swarm of bees away from the rest to find a new hive location. The swarming is also triggered by heavy honey flows in the spring, which causes very rapid egg laying from the queen. A healthy colony will swarm even if they have room in the hive. The first swarm from the hive usually has the mother queen with it; subsequent swarms that follow will contain daughter queens.
  • Threats to bee populations include pesticides, diseases, insect pests like mites, and colony collapse disorder (CCD)—a phenomenon where bees abandon the hive.
  • As long as people don’t bother them, bees generally will not sting.
  • Temperature regulation is essential for many aspects of the hive, such as raising the brood. When rearing the brood in the spring and summer, the bees work together to keep the brood nest within the few degrees of safety (92 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit). For a cooling system, they bring in water and fan their wings to create a cooling breeze. For a heating system, they huddle together, generating warmth with their bodies.
  • Bees design the cells of their hive in a mathematical shape—the hexagon—that ensures the best stability, ease of construction, and efficient use of space.

Divine Design

After discussing the intricate design of the honeybee, ask your evolutionist friend some questions:

  1. Where did the information come from so that bees from generation to generation work together on such feats as communicating through a complex dance pattern, building hexagonal honeycomb, regulating the temperature of the hive, and converting nectar to honey?
  2. How could the symbiotic relationships evolve between pollinators like bees and plants like orchids when one could not exist without the other?
  3. What evidence shows the supposed evolution of the bee’s complex eyes?
  4. Who designed the bee with flight abilities that surpass modern aircraft?
  5. Why does a bee’s minuscule brain beat computers in resolving math problems?

Many evolutionists have attempted to reason how the honeybee could have evolved. The ultimate question is this: Will you trust human reasoning or God’s Word, the Bible? Challenge your evolutionist friend to read the Creator’s Word, which is truth in an age of deception. Perhaps God will graciously grant a taste for his Word—a taste sweeter than honey.

How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)

Creation Corner

Remember that everything was cursed because of man's sin (think specifically of the ground and serpent mentioned in Genesis 3). Death then intruded upon God’s perfect creation, so animals, people, and plants have had to fight for survival ever since. Because of the Curse, traits developed that would have been unnecessary before Adam sinned, like venom and stingers for attack and defense. Keep in mind, though, that not all deadly looking features necessarily had to develop! Fruit bats are a great example of how mean-looking teeth can work just as well for ripping apart vegetation, not flesh! For more about how and why deadly structures are now a part of our world, see “How Did Defense/Attack Structures Come About?

Of course some animals are impressive for their beauty and design, too. Seeing things through the lens of Scripture, we see an all-wise and intelligent God who spoke animals into existence in a perfect world that was soon marred by sin and death. We can praise the Creator for a remnant of that incredible beauty and design still. And God has also thus provided us with examples of his intelligence and provision that we can put to good use in biomimicry. Join us in giving glory to God for his loving care for us and his creation, despite the curse.

– Editor

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