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

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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.

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.

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