Bees Need to Know!
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
And, behold, there was a swarm of bees [דְּבוֹרִ֛ים] and honey in the carcass of the lion. (Judges 14:8b)
The abilities of bees (a/k/a “bumblebees” and “honeybees”) intrigue and amaze us, and they should astound us, because bees fly in ways that even the greatest aeronautical engineers cannot replicate, especially at the miniature scale that bees live and fly at.
Years ago, before the differences between fixed-wing flight and unfixed-wing flight were understood, it was light-heartedly said that bumblebee flight was physically “impossible” (because it mathematically defied the laws of physics that apply to fixed-wing flight motions by heavier-than-air objects).
Hence this limerick of mine, which I titled “HONEYBEES CAN’T FLY“:
Science teaches, ‘honeybees can’t fly’,
And yet they do; I can’t say why!
Using physics, and with math,
We can measure their flight path;
But Science says, those bees can’t fly!
Bees have fascinated me ever since I watched the Moody Institute of Science movie (presented in the mid- AD1970s by my youth pastor, Bob Webel), narrated by Moody Bible Institute’s amazing Dr. Irwin Moon, called “City of the Bees”.(1)
Of course, real empirical science (exemplified by the Moody Institute of Science, and now by the Institute for Creation Research and others) focuses on real-world observations, in order to learn what is (or is not) true about nature (see DANIEL 1:8-16) — including how bees really live and behave.
Bees are amazingly active – and they display God’s power and genius in many detailed ways. But don’t think that bumblebees are limited to the six senses that humans use (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling physical contact) for observing the outside world. Humans need sensory information just to survive; so do beasts.
Bumblebees need to know what is happening around them and how to relate to it. Like us, bees need accurate data about the world around them—constantly provided by light sensors, chemoreceptors, temperature detectors, etc.—so they can react to threats and opportunities. Bees constantly interact with living and nonliving entities: terrestrial and airborne animals and plants, microbes and toxins, predators, parasites, and poisons. These encounters involve sensor and immune systems that blend as an integrated interface-management system for symbiotic activities that include preprogrammed responses that can be offensive, defensive, or mutualistic.(2)
Honeybee on honeycomb (credit: Richard Bartz )
For example, the eyesight of the humble bumblebee is amazing beyond human comprehension:
The brain of the bee is composed of a mere one million neurons (nerve cells), 0.01% of the neurons of a three-pound human brain. Using this tiny bee brain and associated vision, bees have been able to solve complicated color puzzles and even recognize human faces. They do this by using their 6,300 ommatidia that comprise the eye. Bees have also been created with the ability to distinguish up to 300 separate flashes of light per second, an attribute they use as they rapidly fly over the changing landscape.
The next time a busy bee buzzes by you on its way to a field, remember that it is designed to do and find things that our most sophisticated machines and computers cannot do, using vision and a brain that flies in the face (so to speak) of undirected evolution.(3)
Notice the sensory hairs on the honeybee eyes ( credit: Coxshoney.com )
In other words, like other animals, bees routinely need and get accurate and immediate visual information about their immediate (and not-so-immediate) surroundings — yet bumblebees also acquire data around themselves using another physical sense the existence of which we are just now learning about.
Bumblebees feed on nectar from flowers. It is thus advantageous for them to find flowers efficiently, expending as little energy as possible when searching for food.
It turns out that all living things, even flowers, have electrical fields. The student of [God’s] Creation will not be surprised to find that the body hairs of bumblebees possess a unique ability, in that they are sensitive to electrical fields, specifically, those produced by flowers.
In addition to other fine-tuned senses bumblebees possess, including the ability to see ultraviolet light, the body hairs of bumblebees move in response to electrical fields. These hairs, called “mechanosensory hairs”, are connected via nerve fibers to the bumblebee nervous system, and when they move, they activate the nerve cells. These sensory hairs allow bumblebees to forage for nectar more efficiently by enabling them to sense electrical charges on flowers.
Like every specialized physiological property, the unique connections between these body hairs and the bumblebee nervous system could not have developed by accident (chance) or in small [incremental] steps. A partial connection would not be useful to the organism [either for survival or for reproductive success]. This system had to work perfectly from day one [i.e., from Day #5 of Creation Week].(4)
Bee getting nectar, pollinating flower (credit: Wikipedia )
But what do bees do with all of the data they receive, all of which is highly quantified in detail? Interpreting all of the collected data — sights, sounds, even electrical field data – requires the equivalent of a super-computer to analyze, yet bees (as small as they are) have no difficulty with instantly processing math-loaded information as if their little lives depended upon it – which they do.
Bees can solve complex mathematical problems that would normally keep computers busy for days, according to a new report from UK researchers. Through careful observation, University of London scientists have determined that bees routinely solve the “traveling salesman problem,” in which a subject must determine the shortest route between multiple destinations in order to conserve energy. But the scientists don’t know how the bees do it with a brain the size of a grass seed.
“Bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order,” according to a Royal Holloway, University of London press release. Researchers watched as bees encountered “computer controlled artificial flowers” at random, then quickly calculated the shortest route before visiting them all again. Current computer programs that perform these kinds of calculations operate by totaling the lengths of each possible route and then comparing them to find the shortest one.
There is no way that such tiny brains, using such little energy, could arrive at the right answer so quickly and consistently using the same approach as these computers. So, the researchers speculated that the bees must be using an unknown shortcut algorithm. Such an algorithm could be a valuable assistance in solving traffic flow problems on roadways and in man-made data networks.
Also crowded into a bee’s tiny brain are other shortcut algorithms that enable bees to completely avoid crash landings. Research has also discovered advanced capabilities in other insects. For example, ants possess superior traffic flow instincts compared to man-made systems. And even slime mold can build more efficient transportation tracks than those devised by Japanese railway engineers. All of these algorithms, if they could be discovered or reinvented, have the potential for use in human designs.
Since not even humans with supercomputers could develop these clever algorithms, they must have been purposefully programmed into the insects by an intelligent programmer. Nature by itself could never put together such intricate programs. Even if it could, where would it obtain the power needed to insert them into the exact animals that require them? Bees, like ants and so many other creatures, clearly look as though they have been expertly designed. Further, it appears that their Designer is vastly more clever than humans, who have trouble understanding, much less duplicating, the abilities of these creatures.(5)
Honeybee on Aster flower (credit: statesymbolsusa.org )
Thus, bees do their personal research and analysis quickly, using brains so small that their behavior is inexplicably baffling – unless we keep in mind Who designed and constructed and maintains the bioengineering and life of each humble bumblebee: the Lord Jesus Christ, Who delights in confounding the supposedly “great” by what is “little”.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the “foolish” things of the world to confound the “wise”; and God hath chosen the “weak” things of the world to confound the things which are “mighty”; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption — that, according as it is written, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”. (1st Corinthians 1:26-31, following Jeremiah 9:23-24)
Honeybee by purple blossoms (credit: media-treehugger.com)
(1) Irwin A. Moon, City of the Bees (Moody Science Classics movie, 1962), now available on DVD. Dr. Irwin Moon, who influenced Dr. Henry Morris, should be recognized as the “morning-star” of the Biblical creation revival movement.
(2) Compare similar text, applied to how freshwater fish need to know, in James J. S. Johnson, “Even Fish Need to Know!”, Acts & Facts, 45(1):21 (January 2016), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/even-fish-need-know . This blogpost article, without the limerick (“Honeybees Can’t Fly”), first appeared on BIBLEWORLD ADVENTURES (posted September 13th AD2016), posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2016/09/13/bees-need-to-know/ .
(3) Quoting Frank J. Sherwin, “Un-Bee-lievable Vision”, Acts & Facts, vol. 35, issue #2 (February 2006), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/un-bee-lievable-vision/ .
(4) Quoting Jonathan C. O’Quinn, “Electric Bumblebees”, CREATION MATTERS, 21(4):12 (July-August 2016), citing G. P. Suttona, et al., “Mechanosensory Hairs in Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) Detect Weak Electric Fields”, PNAS [Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences], 113(26):7261-7265 (2016).
(5) Quoting Brian Thomas, “Bees Solve Math Problems Faster Than Computers”, ICR News (posted November 2nd AD2010), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/bees-solve-math-problems-faster-than .