You’ve no doubt heard the expression “the bees knees” referring to something wonderful or of high quality. Have you wondered what is so wonderful about the knees of bees? Do bees have knees? Perhaps the expression originated because bees have highly specialized physical characteristics uniquely suited to their lifestyle and earning them a reputation as efficient and effective pollinators. For example, bees’ bodies are covered in fine hairs that are branched and electrostatically charged to hold onto pollen granules. The legs of a bee have comb-like structures they use to remove the pollen that adheres to their bodies as they move around inside flowers looking for nectar, and stiff, bristle-like hairs that store the pollen that they use to feed their young.
Bees possess mouthparts that are suited to the flowers on which they feed, long-tongued bees feed on tubular flowers like penstemon, while short-tongued bees feed on flowers with an open structure, like daisies. Leaf-cutting bees have mandibles that are capable of cutting leaves that they use to line their nests, while carpenter bees have grinding mandibles to allow them to tunnel into wood for their nests. These and other adaptations developed over millions of years as bees and the flowering plants they pollinate evolved together in a mutually beneficial relationship. In this relationship, plants offer attractive flowers with scent, color and nectar to attract bees and secure their pollination services while the bees, seeking nectar and pollen, move pollen from male to female flower part and fertilize the seeds, leading to seed set and the production of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.