Insectman Home
Contact Us
My Testimony
Our Links
Get Saved
Exodus Mandate
The Lie: Evolution


Design in the Honey Bee: The remarkable efficiency of flight muscles

By David J. Tyler October 1996

The 12 October 1996 issue of New Scientist has a piece by Ben Crystall with the title "Cool honeybees don't get in a flap" (page 15)

He starts out by saying that insect flight is remarkably inefficient - converting only about 6% of the energy consumed into mechanical work. The rest is lost as heat - an effect which increases the danger of overheating. One is tempted to ask - did the Designer get it wrong?   

New research findings

A team led by Jon Harrison of Arizona State University has published research findings in Science (1996, vol 274, p.88) which suggests that there are good reasons for the low efficiencies measured. As the temperature of the environment was changed, the bee's body temperature, the rate of its wing beats and its metabolic rate was measured. As the temperature rose from 20 to 40 degrees C, the wing-beat frequency decreased by 16%, the metabolic rate decreased by 50% and the thorax temperature of the bee remained relatively stable.

The lower wing-beat frequencies did not lead to difficulties in flying, so the inference can be made that the bee's flight becomes more efficient as the temperature rises. The muscles appear to be working more efficiently on hot days. So why work inefficiently on cold days? "Harrison suggests that the heat generated by inefficient flight keeps bees warm on cold days".

This seems to be an eminently reasonable conclusion. And it has an important bearing on hive thermoregulation. Even during the cold weather, bees have a behavioural pattern which keeps the majority of the bees warm - clustering. The bees on the outside of the cluster are cool but they act as insulators for the warm bees. During this time, it is vital that heat is generated efficiently - and what better way than to use the wing muscles to do it? The design is only appreciated when it is realised that wing muscles have a dual function: to enable flight and to generate heat. Depending on the environment, the bee is able to shift the emphasis either towards flying efficiency or towards heat

Intelligent design

Findings like this are a reminder that if we start with the assumption that animals are intelligently designed, it will help us to avoid  making dubious statements that certain organs or processes are "inefficient". Even though we might not appreciate all aspects of the design at the outset, we can proceed with the assumption that if we look a bit closer, we should be able to find  satisfying answers.