Pollinators: Bee's Eye and Antenna

Here is the third of the six paintings completed under a grant from the Haines & Friends Fund 2015 Artist Grants.

Bee's Eye and Antenna

Imagine you are standing on the top of the bee’s head, looking at its right eye and antenna; the other eye and antenna are behind you, out of sight.

The two large compound eyes of the honeybee are made of thousands of hexagonal faceted lenses called ommatidia.  Light reaches each lens at a different angle, and the bee’s brain combines the information from all these thousand of lenses so the bee sees a form as a mosaic of these thousands of dots. The ommatidia detect movement and are sensitive to both ultraviolet and polarized light.  By interpreting the polarized light, the bee can orient herself to the sun’s position throughout the day.  The bee also has three single-lens eyes (simple eyes) on her head that monitor light intensity.

The bee’s antennae sense what our ears, nose, tongue, and skin sense: sounds, smells, tastes, and changes in vibrations, temperature, wind and humidity. The antennae fit into sockets on the head and can swivel in all directions. The ball-shaped part of the antenna is called the pedicel and it sits in the socket, or scape.  The flagellum is the long, tubular part composed of ringed sections and is covered with tactile sensory hairs, pits, plaques and short spines.  The bee’s sense of smell is more acute than any mammal’s sense of smell.



Pollinators: "Bee's Foot"

This post includes the second of the six paintings completed under a grant from the Haines & Friends Fund 2015 Artist Grants.  Hitch a ride on a bee’s hairy foot and visit the land of an elderberry leaf. There you can explore the leaf’s breathing pores (stomata) through which the leaf inhales carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen and water vapor in its daily work of photosynthesis.

Bee's Foot

Bees, like all insects, have 3 pairs of jointed legs. At the very end of each leg is the last tarsal joint with a pair of bi-lobed claws and a single rounded lobe called the empodium.  When the bee walks on an ordinarily rough surface, it walks on its claws. But when the surface is slippery, the bee flattens its empodia, secretes a sticky substance onto them, and walks on them instead of the claws.  The colorless secretion also acts as a pheromone that leaves a chemical footprint with messages for the other bees of her hive. 

The bee’s legs are covered in numerous hairs of varying lengths. Pollen grains catch in these hairs and get carried from flower to flower as the bee forages for nectar. With a pollen comb on her front leg, she gathers the pollen that has caught on her body and transfers the grains into a “pollen basket” on her rear legs.  She does not eat the indigestible "raw" pollen right away, but unloads it at the hive, where other bees work it into highly digestible and protein-rich “bee bread”. 

The surface of every leaf has pores (stomata) that regulate the passage of carbon dioxide, oxygen and water vapor into or out of the leaf for photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration. A leaf can have between 100 to 1000 stomata per square millimeter, each with its pair of guard cells that regulate the size of the opening.


Pollinators: "Bee's 'Tongue'"

Here is the first of the six paintings completed under a grant from the Haines & Friends Fund 2015 Artist Grants.

Bee's 'Tongue' © 2016

The bee’s mouth is a complex organ made up of various parts that allow it to both bite and suck.  To bite, the bee uses its strong mandibles. To suck liquids, it uses its proboscis, the long organ that looks like a tongue but is made of several part that form an air-tight straw.  The flexible tongue itself is covered with a huge number of long hairs. 

The bee in this picture is feasting on the nectar of a raspberry flower.  The white stalks in the center are the stigmas, and each one sits on a swollen base inside of which is an immature seed.  Surrounding all the stigmas is a ring of stamens—slender stalks carrying pollen sacs filled with thousands of tiny pollen grains, each no bigger than a speck of dust.  When the pollen grains are released into the air, some of them will stick to the bee’s tongue, many to the hairs of its whole body. When the bee flies to the next raspberry flower, some of the pollen grains will fall on the moist open tops of its stigmas and begin the process of fertilizing the seeds that wait at the base. Eventually there will be a ripe juicy raspberry for another animal to feast on.     

Colletes willistoni bees range from 8 to 9 millimeters in length.  The average size of a pollen grain is 20-80 thousandths of a millimeter! So the bee is roughly a hundred times longer than a pollen grain. If you were were 100 times the size of an 3-inch diameter apple, you would be 25 feet tall!