Last week I was speaking to a high school beekeeping club when one of the attendees asked the inevitable question: “Do bees have knees?” The answer of course is yes. In fact, they have six.
In humans, the knee is the joint between the femur and the tibia. Since bees have a femur and a tibia in each leg, they sure as heck have knees. Of course, those joints don’t have a kneecap (patella), but does that really matter?
What about ankles?
When I was researching material for the Honey Bee Legs Quiz, I never ran into the term “knee,” but I did see the word “ankle” used in several publications.
Recall that a bee leg has five major segments: coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, and tarsus. The tarsus—which is further divided into the basitarsus, tarsomeres, and pretarsus—is referred to as the “foot,” which makes the joint between the tibia and the tarsus an “ankle” of sorts.
Ground-nesting bees often have bare spots at the knees. In order to give themselves leverage, many ground-nesting bees brace themselves with their legs against the sides of the tunnel as they dig. I’ve always wondered if this activity wears away the hairs at the knee, of if they don’t have hairs there to begin with.
Alternatively, maybe the pollen falls off that area when they bend their knees. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that a bare spot is nearly always visible, as you can see in the photos below. It reminds me of the worn spots on my jeans, the result of taking too many photos of bees.
The phrase “the bee’s knees” is an informal expression referring to something outstanding or truly excellent. “His new phone is the bee’s knees!” How did it come about? Most people think it’s just a rhyming thing. It appears to have originated in the 1920s along with many similar terms that involved animals, such as “the cat’s pyjamas,” which means basically the same thing.
Honey Bee Suite