Architectural Abilities of Honeybees

Architectural Abilities of Honeybees

One of the evidences of design in the natural world is honeycomb construction by bees. For many years, engineers have noted that the hexagon is the strongest geometric shape. In geology, we see six-sided columns of basalt produced under ideal conditions inside the Earth. Visible examples of that appear in areas worldwide, such as Devils Tower in Wyoming, where erosion has exposed those columns. Scientists using automated measurements of thousands of honeycomb cells discovered the extraordinary architectural abilities of honeybees.

Many years ago, biologists questioned how bees learned to construct their honeycombs with a six-sided geometry. That shape gives the most storage space with efficient use of building materials. Any other geometric shape would collapse under the weight of the honey. Since a mistake would be lethal, trial and error seems to be an unsatisfactory explanation. Therefore, the genetic makeup of bees must include instructions to build their honeycombs with hexagons.

New studies show the architectural abilities of honeybees to be even more impressive. That is because the structure of the honeycomb is even more complicated than fitting hexagons together. The problem is that not all of the hexagons in a honeycomb can be the same size. Worker bees require a small six-sided structure, but drones require larger cells. However, all of these have to be fitted together into a single sheet in the hive. Researchers have found that bees create intermediate size hexagons to transition from one size to the other.

Also, the bees have to merge combs that are constructed from different starting points. Then, to align them, the bees build special cells with 4, 5, or even 7 sides. The writers of the research report said, “Unlike automatons building perfectly replicated hexagons, these building irregularities showcase the active role that workers take in shaping their nest and the true architectural abilities of honeybees.”

Queen Mary University entomologist Lars Chittka commented, “The hexagonal grid structure of a honeycomb–constructed by a leaderless collective of hundreds of bees–lends itself to speculation that robotic, innate behavior must be at work. But a simple robot does not have such a level of adaptability and rate of error recovery.”

Building even a simple robot is a real challenge to modern-day scientists and engineers. Building the bee’s genetic structure to include the ability to adapt the honeycomb to different needs is incredibly complex. The design of the genetic code for the architectural abilities of honeybees is an excellent testimony to God’s handiwork. God is a creator-engineer giving bees the ability to build honeycombs to accommodate their needs.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Scientific American November 2021 (page 19), and the original scientific report published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Murder Hornet Madness

Murder Hornet Madness - Asian Giant Hornet
Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

The media can stir up unfounded and destructive emotional reactions to what, in reality, are minor events. In May of 2020, the media announced that Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) hornets had been found in Washington State and British Columbia. The media referred to them as “murder hornets” and expressed the fear that those hornets would sweep across the continent, killing people with their lethal stings. That caused some panic, especially in the eastern United States, which could be called “murder hornet madness.”

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven had numerous calls from people who believed they had a murder hornet in their backyard. In all cases so far, the specimen turned out to be a European hornet, bald face hornet, robber fly, or cicada-killer wasp.

To quell murder hornet madness, here are the facts about the Asian giant hornets from Science News:

1) They hunt for honeybees, not people, and the concern is for the honey industry, not because they will kill humans. A few months ago, we posted about how the honeybees have devised a defense against them.

2) Their nests have all been destroyed.

3) Studies show that migration to the east is almost impossible because of the mountains and other natural barriers in the way.

4) None of them have been seen anywhere but in the coastal ranges of Washington state and British Columbia. That is 3000 miles away from the people calling their local entomologists claiming to see them in their yards or parks.

Expert entomologist Gale Ridge, who has been working on the Asian giant hornet issue, says, “The combination of half-listening and overdramatization of the facts by the media creates an anxiety driven stew.” There is a threat to honeybees, making it essential to prevent this invasive species from getting a foothold in North America. However, Asian giant hornets are not a direct risk to humans.

We need to realize that the media are trying to get viewers and readers. They often overlook or overdramatize the facts, even creating “murder hornet madness.” That is true not just in cases of natural phenomena but also in politics and religion.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News, December 19, 2020 and January 2, 2021.

Bees Develop a Defense Against Killer Hornets

Bees Develop a Defense Against Killer Hornets
Vietnamese Honey Bees

One of the strangest battles in the natural world has been the war between killer hornets and honey bees. The large hornets invade the honey bees’ hives, carry off the bee larvae, and feed them to their offspring. Scientists are seeing bees develop a defense against killer hornets.

This battle has been going on in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal for some time. In 2019, the killer hornets arrived in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Beekeepers are desperately trying to find the killer hornet nests and destroy them. One of the problems they face is that a single hornet sting delivers about seven times as much venom as a bee sting, so encounters with them can be very painful.

Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada have found that the bees develop a defense against killer hornets in Vietnam. The bees collect buffalo dung and pack it around the entrances to their hives. The animal feces reduced hornet intrusions by 94%. The honey bees did not use the dung until hornets started invading, and it surprised people who work with the bees. Because beehives are ideal places for disease to grow, bees are very careful about allowing any contamination of their hives. Any attempt to give an evolutionary explanation to this defense system by the bees is doomed because there has not been enough time for any behavioral changes to occur.

Because they can travel great distances by various methods, it is not surprising that insects from one geographical region will show up in a different area. When they do, it creates a problem because they don’t have predators to control them. Fire ants have caused problems in the United States for some time, and African bees are becoming problematic. It appears that the knowledge to use feces to repel their mortal enemies is built into the honey bee’s DNA. Scientists are trying to understand whether it is the smell or natural chemicals that keeps the hornets away. One thing is clear. The bees have a tool they know how to use.

When we see how bees develop a defense against killer hornets, it reminds us that living things are designed to preserve life. The intelligence of the living system is strong evidence of God’s creative ability. The next time you enjoy honey, remember that it is not just the honey itself that God has given you, but also the protection built into the honey bees who produced it.

— John N. Clayton © 2020


Waxworms, Common Pests that Eat Plastic

Waxworms, Common Pests that Eat Plastic

What appears to be a pest may become a solution to a problem. A recent example of that is waxworms, common pests that eat plastic.

Waxworms got their name because they eat the wax in honeycombs. That makes them enemies of bees and a curse for the honey industry and for bee growers that use bees for pollination. Studies of waxworms have shown that microbiota in their gut breaks down the beeswax and provides nutrition for the waxworms.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B published the report of a study indicating that waxworms can also eat plastic. Specifically, they can eat polyethylene, which is a non-biodegradable plastic. They metabolize polyethylene into glycol, which is biodegradable. Polyethylene makes up a vast percentage of the 300 million tons of plastic waste generated every year.

Scientists are researching ways to harness waxworms, so they eat the waste without also destroying bees. This study shows that there are natural solutions to one of the biggest waste problems in the world today.

God, in His wisdom, gave us a wide variety of plants and animals that feed on a wide range of foods. That fact not only allows the natural world to exist, but it provides enormous benefits to human society. We need to understand more about what God has done, and science is a useful tool to do that. It was science that told us about waxworms, common pests that eat plastic.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Honeybee Clusters – How They Survive

Honeybee Clusters
Among the most interesting things to see in the natural world are honeybee clusters. When bees search for a new location, the queen will move to a tree branch or some other surface she can hang onto. The worker bees cluster around her making a large ball. Researchers have noticed that the ball of bees changes shape as various forces like wind or vibration are directed at it. The changing shape fine-tunes the cluster to resist the elements protecting the queen and the cluster as a whole. The question is how the bees know where and how to move to hold the ball together.

Researchers at Harvard University have found that the strain sensed by each bee is the answer. When a bee feels stress from the wind or some other external force, they will move to an area of greater strain. Many bees moving to protect the cluster flattens the cluster’s shape making it more resistant to the source of the stress. The bees are taking more strain on themselves for the good of the cluster.

In fundamental physics, we know that Young’s modulus is the ratio of stress to strain and every material has a value. Understanding the values is critical to engineering structures to prevent material failure leading to the collapse of the structure. Apparently, bees have a high Young’s modulus designed into their genetic makeup to allow the honeybee cluster to survive.

Researchers emphasize that our understanding of insect behavior is in its infant stage. As concerns grow over the loss of bees that are important pollinators, more research is of great importance. Our understanding of God’s designs in the natural world continues to grow. The complexity of even such simple things as honeybee clusters tells us we have a lot to learn. It also tells us much about God’s wisdom and engineering design.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Reference: Science News, October 27, 2018, page 5.

Honeybee Engineering

Honeybee Engineering
Bees are master engineers of the storing of dense fluids. Their fluid is honey, and they store it in a way that shows excellent honeybee engineering.

Worker bees gorge on honey and excrete slivers of wax. Other workers take that wax and position and mold it into a column of six-sided cells. The bees cluster to keep the temperature of the wax at 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) so that it’s firm but malleable. Each wax partition is less than .1 mm thick with a tolerance of .002 mm. The cell walls must be at a 120-degree angle in relation to each other to make a lattice of regular hexagons.

There are only three regular polygons which pack together snugly without leaving gaps–equilateral triangles, squares, and regular hexagons. The perimeter of a hexagonal cell that encloses an area is less than that of a square or a triangular cell making it the most economical shape. Using the same quantity of wax, hexagonal cells can hold more honey than square or triangular cells. Mathematicians have tried other options, such as using curved sides or a mixture of polygons. They have confirmed that curved polygons could not do as well as straight-line hexagons. Mathematicians can’t beat honeybee engineering.

How do the bees keep the honey in the cells? They tip the cells upward at an angle of 13 degrees from the horizontal. That is precisely the angle needed to stop the honey from dripping out. There is one more problem. How can the bees seal off the bottom of the columns? A flat bottom would not do. Bees construct the base with three, four-sided diamond shapes that meet in a point. Two rows of cells are placed back-to-back and offset so that they interlock. With the cells backing up each other, only one layer of wax acts as the bottom for both cells. Mathematicians have proven that the angles of the diamond-shaped cell bottoms (109.5 and 70.5 degrees) give the maximum volume for storage.

It’s difficult to believe that the honeycomb structure is an accident or the final product of trial and error. Mistakes are usually lethal or at least result in a loss of vital energy resources. Honeybee engineering has fascinated and amazed philosophers and mathematicians since the time of ancient Greece. We think the honeybee engineers learned the principles of structural math from the Master Engineer.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Lesson from the Bees

Lesson from the Bees
For a bee to fill its honey stomach with nectar to take back to the colony, it has to visit from 100 to 1500 flowers. The honey stomach is a special pouch for the nectar, and it can hold about 70 mg (0.0025 oz). To make one pound (.454 kg) of honey requires 50,000 bee-loads of nectar. You might think that this is a very inefficient and poorly designed system. However, we can learn a lesson from the bees.

Every year beekeepers in the United States collect about 163 million pounds (74 million kg) of honey. Besides that, each bee colony will eat between 120 and 200 pounds (54 to 90 kg) of its own honey in a year. The bee’s system for producing honey is highly efficient, and well coordinated in the hive. How is that possible?

Two things make honey production productive. There are enormous numbers of bees, and they all work together. Each bee contributes a very small amount, and each one has a job to do. The hive contains many bees with one purpose, goal, and objective—to make the hive work. They are each 100% committed to the purpose of getting the job done. There is no squabbling, no power politics, no division, and no jealousy among the bees.

We can learn a lesson from the bees. When Jesus told His followers to preach the gospel to every creature, He didn’t tell them something that was impossible to do. He also prayed for unity. He knew that division was the one thing that would stop His followers from getting the job done.

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote about the body of Christ, His Church. He said that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” even though we are diverse in our race and status. Then in verses 24-25 he adds, “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

Think of the different status and abilities of the bees in a hive working together for a common cause and learn a lesson from the bees.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Bee Facts

Bee Working
Bee Working

In addition to yesterday’s article on the use of quantum mechanics by bees, here are some more incredible bee facts about these amazing creatures:

– Bees have five eyes–two large compound eyes and three simple eyes (ocelli) used to detect light intensity. A worker bee’s eyes have 7,000 lenses.

– Bee wings have an electrostatic charge which attracts pollen.

-A bee has two sets of wings. Rapid slapping generates warmth and evaporates water from nectar to make honey.

– Bees have wing hooks which enable the bee to use one of each set of wings or use the wings together for maximum efficiency.

– The proboscis, which is an airtight straw-like tube, sucks up nectar and also works in reverse to feed offspring from a honey stomach.

-The bee has a mandible with jaws that help bite and pack pollen as well as shape wax for building the honeycomb.

– Leg brushes scrape pollen from front to back where it collects in the pollen sac attached to the rear leg.

– Bees have a honey stomach which is a second reservoir where they temporarily store nectar before it is regurgitated.

– A worker bee can carry more than half its weight in pollen and can visit up to 100 flowers in one trip.

– A queen bee lays 1500 eggs a day and lives for three to seven years.

Bees are truly an amazing part of God’s creation.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bees and Quantum Mechanics

Bees on Honeycomb
Bees on Honeycomb

One of the most detailed discussions of living things is Karl von Frisch’s book Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Von Frisch spent 40 years studying how bees communicate to other bees information about pollen sources. He referred to the honeycomb as a dance floor and described the bee making a “waggle dance” which gave other bees information where to find nectar. The bee dance indicates the direction to this food source and an alteration of the shape of the dance indicates the distance to the source. If the food source was close, the bee uses a round dance instead of the waggle dance. Von Frisch’s study catalogs what the bee does, but it doesn’t tell you how the bee does it.

Barbara Shipman is a mathematician with an interest in bees. There is a mathematical concept known as “manifolds.” Manifolds can have two dimensions, but they can have an infinite number of dimensions. One type of manifold called the “flag manifold” has six dimensions. As Shipman worked with flag manifolds, she saw patterns that were similar to the patterns of the waggle dance of the bees. Physicists use flag manifolds in dealing with subatomic particles called quarks which are the building blocks of protons and neutrons. Shipman believes that bees are sensitive to quarks and the sensitivity appears to be a reaction to a quantum field acting on the membranes of selected cells in the bees. It has been demonstrated that bees are sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field and the polarization of sunlight. Shipman is seeking to add the dimension of quantum fields to the bee’s repertoire of tools for location and communication.

If you are interested in digging into this in depth, there is an excellent article titled “Quantum Honeybees” in Discover magazine, November 1997. We have not found later discussions in the current literature, but the mystery of how bees communicate is far greater than the articles we have found on wolves, whales, and elephants. Attributing such things to chance products of natural selection is creative, but suggesting that the wisdom of a Creator is involved is far more satisfying to many of us who have studied these abilities.
— John N. Clayton © 2017