Daily Picture Show

It's the Bee's Knees! (No, Really)

Ever wanted to know what a bee’s knees actually look like? Just coat them with gold and throw them under an electron microscope, no big deal. Or just look at these awesome photos that Rose-Lynn Fisher took, having gone through the trouble for us, from her book, BEE.

  • Sabine 15x
  • antenna 130xThe front section of the antenna is the flagellum. It is connected to the scape at the pedicel. The flagellum is made up of ringed subdivisions, providing flexibility in movement so that the bee can pick up sensory signals all around.
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    antenna 130xThe front section of the antenna is the flagellum. It is connected to the scape at the pedicel. The flagellum is made up of ringed subdivisions, providing flexibility in movement so that the bee can pick up sensory signals all around.
  • abdomen 23xForeshortened view of the abdomen with sting.
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    abdomen 23xForeshortened view of the abdomen with sting.
  • antenna 900xPlate and peg sensilla of the flagellum.
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    antenna 900xPlate and peg sensilla of the flagellum.
  • abdomen 70xThe abdomen is divided into the propodeum (first segment) and the metasoma (the remaining segments) at the petiole (a narrow constriction). This is a seldom-seen view of the end of the propodeum that is ordinarily hidden (it fits into the opening of the second segment). The petiole enables agile movement of the metasoma for laying eggs, mating, or stinging.
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    abdomen 70xThe abdomen is divided into the propodeum (first segment) and the metasoma (the remaining segments) at the petiole (a narrow constriction). This is a seldom-seen view of the end of the propodeum that is ordinarily hidden (it fits into the opening of the second segment). The petiole enables agile movement of the metasoma for laying eggs, mating, or stinging.
  • hairy eye 70xHairy eyes are only found among a few of the twenty thousand species of bees.
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    hairy eye 70xHairy eyes are only found among a few of the twenty thousand species of bees.
  • the bee's knee 330xThe joint between the bee's femur and tibia.
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    the bee's knee 330xThe joint between the bee's femur and tibia.
  • sting 650xWhen a bee stings a person, bear, skunk, or other mammal, the barbs of the sting become anchored in the flesh. As she tries to free herself, the last segment of her abdomen is ripped out as she dies.
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    sting 650xWhen a bee stings a person, bear, skunk, or other mammal, the barbs of the sting become anchored in the flesh. As she tries to free herself, the last segment of her abdomen is ripped out as she dies.
  • body 75xOne abdominal sclerite (plate) overrides the next.
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    body 75xOne abdominal sclerite (plate) overrides the next.
  • glossa (tongue) 430x
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    glossa (tongue) 430x
  • wing hooks 86xThe top edge of the hind wing has hooks called hamuli which catch on a fold at the bottom edge of the forewing; this interaction allows the two wings to function as one during flight. At rest the hamuli slip out, and the wings disconnect, each folding separately over the back.
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    wing hooks 86xThe top edge of the hind wing has hooks called hamuli which catch on a fold at the bottom edge of the forewing; this interaction allows the two wings to function as one during flight. At rest the hamuli slip out, and the wings disconnect, each folding separately over the back.
  • wing 170xAnother view of the hamuli attaching to the wing fold.
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    wing 170xAnother view of the hamuli attaching to the wing fold.
  • wing hooks 700xA closer view of the hamuli.
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    wing hooks 700xA closer view of the hamuli.

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Through a close friend who works at a lab, Fisher learned how to use a scanning electron microscope, or SEM, which shines a finely focused electron beam across the bee’s thin gold coating, providing electrical conductivity. This electrical signal is converted into a digital image.

“Stationed at the SEM I felt like an explorer wandering through an alien frontier,” Fisher writes in an e-mail, “moving into closer and closer views of the seemingly endless, intricate forms that comprise one tiny little bee.”

Each increase in magnification revealed something new. “Here is one small insect, yet a whole world in itself!” she writes. “The microscope offers a way to think about the continuum of life from the micro to the macro happening at the same moment, the worlds within worlds that comprise our universe.”

Some of these photos reveal surprising structures, like the hooks that bind the hind and forewings during flight; such an elegant adaptation. Close-ups (I’m speaking relatively here) of the body look like epic landscapes sprouting skeleton trees a la Mount St. Helens. The knees, however, the very bee’s knees … really aren’t as impressive, and are actually kind of gross.

Or maybe I'm wrong and they really are the cat's pajamas. What do you think?

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