The Perfect Design of Honey Bees


This video is a segment of “Silence of the Bees,” a remarkable documentary mini-series that premiered on PBS in October 2007, when the apiculture community was just beginning to suspect the devastating effects that Colony Collapse Disorder would have on honeybee populations.

As the video explains, and as beekeepers know by their own observations, bees are “just this magnificent little engineered thing, just perfect for all the things they can do”:

An architectural marvel, the honeybee’s design is an elegant fusion of form and function. A proboscis for ferreting out nectar stored deep in a flower’s folds. And powerful mandibles for eating, feeding young, and manipulating wax.

Photo: Bee on lavendar via Flickr

Two compound eyes are comprised of 6,900 lenses and covered with sensory hairs for detecting wind speed. Three additional eyes, called ocelli, receive light signals for orientation.

Four wings clasp together with tiny hooks and beat up to 230 times a second.

For defense, a double-edged, serrated sting, which she can use only once — at the cost of her own life.

Hind legs are broadened into special baskets for carrying heavy cargo of pollen to the hive. Feathery hairs coat the body and build up a static charge as the bee flies. When the bee lands on a flower, pollen literally jumps on to her body.

Nature’s award-winning Silence of the Bees was narrated by American actor F. Murray Abraham, winner of the 1985 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus. It was produced by filmmaker Doug Schultz — and if you’re interested in what went on “behind the scenes” in making the documentary, you can read an interview with Doug Schultz at the PBS program website.

Silence of the Bees is available on DVD (packaged together with an equally interesting documentary, Parrots in the Land of Oz). You can get it direct from PBS online or from Amazon.com in the United States and from Amazon.ca in Canada.