Do Bees Have Knees?


We've all heard of the phrase 'the bees' knees'.  If something is 'the bees' knees' then it must be good.

But do bees have knees - really?  The answer is actually YES! Here is an explanation and diagram showing the anatomy of a bee's leg, with the knee clearly labelled.

So how do we know that bees have knees?

Firstly, what is a knee?

If we want to know whether or not bees have knees, we need to define exactly what a knee actually is.


Here is a definition from The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary (the third definition being especially pertinent here): 

knee (nē)

n.


1. a. The joint between the thigh and the lower leg, formed by the articulation of the femur and the tibia and covered anteriorly by the patella.
     b.
The region of the leg that encloses and supports this joint.

2. An analogous joint or part of a leg of a quadruped vertebrate.

3. The joint between the femur and the tibia in an insect leg.

From: The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


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So bees really do have knees!

Given that bees have both a femur and a tibia, it can therefore be stated that bees really do have knees.

Here you can see the labelled parts of the bumble bee leg.Here you can see the labelled parts of the bumble bee leg.

It's interesting, however, that few diagrams of bee anatomy actually label the knee, but I eventually found one.

It comes from entomologist, Steven Falk's Field Guide to Great Britain And Ireland.

Here is the diagram from the section titled Bee Anatomy:

Above: 'Diagram of the right leg of a bee, showing tarsi' - and with knee labelled!


You can see that the leg of a bee is segmented, and those segments include

  • the femur and the tibia 
  • the other sections of the leg being the coxa, trochanter, basitarsus and tarsus. 


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Do the bees' knees have a special function?


The three pairs of legs on a bee have distinct features, that sometimes vary, depending on the species.

For example:

  • On the tibia of each hind leg, bees have special hairs that they use for cleaning their wings.
  • Many bee species have 'brushes' and 'combs' on the middle legs too, and these are used for scraping pollen to the hind legs.

  • Bees such as bumble bees and honey bees have pollen baskets on their hind legs, known as corbiculae.  You can read more about this on my page How Do Bees Collect Pollen?

  • In oil-collecting bees such as Centris, the bees use long hairs on their front and middle legs (that actually look like butter knives or spatulas), to scrape up the floral oil from the flower.  These bees then store the oil in the scopae (tufts of pollen-collecting hairs on the hind legs) to take back to their nests.

However, it seems the bees' knees themselves perform no special function.

P.S.

If you want to know about the origins of the phrase 'bee's knees' you can read about it here.



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