Do bees have blood? No. But they have an alternative way of moving nutrients around their bodies. In this article, we will take a dive into the world of bee circulation. And if bees did have blood we know what type it would be – Bee Positive right? Now before I drone on too much about this…
Mass Transfer and Life
Life is all about mass transfer. We have systems that move things from a place where they are, to a place where they are needed. This is then reacted and produces byproducts, some of which must be moved from where they are causing trouble, to a place where they cause less trouble.
An example of mass transfer that we are all exposed to our entire life is breathing. As soon as this system stops working we normally die shortly afterward. In the breathing process, the oxygen-rich air mass is brought into the lungs. The Oxygen-poor, Carbon dioxide-rich mass is moved out of the lungs.
Oxygen diffuses into the blood and binds to hemoglobin – this oxygenated blood then goes to the heart and from here it is pumped to the body. When the hemoglobin approaches tissues that are active, Carbon dioxide is produced in these areas and causes the hemoglobin to drop the oxygen it is carrying. Carbon dioxide is then carried back to the lungs and expelled.
How Do Bees Breathe?
We covered the basics of how bees get oxygen here. A quick summary – they have a number of little holes called spiracles. These bring air into a network of tracheae, and air sacks which pump the air close to tissues where it is needed. The same system removes carbon dioxide from the bee and pumps it back out into the atmosphere.
Do Bees Have Blood?
So if we look at the definition of blood, it is a liquid mixture of cells and plasma that transports nutrients around an animal with a closed circulation system (eg bird, fish, mammal, reptile, amphibian). Bees do not have a closed circulation system -they have an open system. Instead of blood, they have hemolymph. So the correct answer is that bees do not have blood – they have hemolymph.
What Is Hemolymph Or Bee Blood?
The simplest answer to this is that it is pretty much everything our blood is, except it does not have the red blood cells to move oxygen around. In our mammalian bodies, we move oxygen around in the circulation system and move other nutrients and waste in and out of the body.
In bees, the tracheal system takes oxygen to tissues and removes carbon dioxide. Hemolymph moves nutrients, hormones, and the immune system among other factors, around.
In some insects, hemolymph carries proteins, called hemocyanins, which can use copper instead of iron to bind and move oxygen around. In honeybees, these proteins seem to have been broken in some evolutionary event a while back, and they no longer contain copper. These proteins in bee hemolymph are called hexamerins. Instead of moving oxygen around, they act as storage proteins.
Bee Rate Of Metabolism
If we look at a bee that is flying and carrying a full load its metabolic rate is quite mind-boggling. There is a mistake that we make as humans where we think we are superior to most animals. We are actually quite primitive animals, with big brains.
Our brains allow us to fill our heads with knowledge that then allows us to live around the fact that we have bad genes. To test this theory walk around and see how many people wear glasses. Then look inside a beehive and count the number of bees wearing glasses.
Bees have a superior metabolism to humans – the conversion of sugar to energy happens at a truly mind-boggling, and efficient rate. Bees have to carry their brain through the air. If the brain is too big, it costs more energy. There is evidence to suggest that if a bee brain were built on human architecture it would be about the size of a marble. Or if our brains were built like a bee brain, we could fit our entire intelligence into a golfball-sized brain.
In this regard, a honeybee has a metabolic rate we cannot even comprehend, and its brain works in a super-efficient way. Never make the mistake of looking down at a bee and feeling that you are a higher organism. We can learn more from bees than they can from us. But then that is what our big brains are for – learning.
How Does Bee Anatomy Allow This Efficient System To Work?
Honey bee anatomy is, as we have discussed before, all about achieving efficient mass transfer. We have a small animal that is evolved to fly at great speed, over great distances. If can carry large payloads and do this very efficiently.
A lot of this success is attributable to a combination of size and mechanics. A bee can achieve a very high rate of metabolism because it is a small animal. As animals get bigger, the logistics of moving things around efficiently inside the animal get more complex. This is why whales have a lower metabolic rate than bees for example. If a whale had the same metabolic rate as a bee, it would not dissipate the heat it created and would die in a few minutes.
Surface Area To Volume Ratio
A lot of this has to do with the surface area to volume ratio. If we look at a bee it is a fraction of an inch from where there is bee-body to where there is air. It is easy to move air in and out over short distances. The ratio of the surface of the bees to the body is also high. This means the bee can generate and dissipate a lot of heat.
If we take a whale it can be many many tens of yards from where the air comes into the body to where it is used. This requires a big heart, circulation system, lungs, fancy proteins, and moving mass around the body. All of this reduces efficiency. The animal also has many sections of its body which are yards from the skin – the only way to get heat in and out of this system is with the circulation system. For a whale, maintaining temperature is a lot more energy-intensive than for a bee.
How This All Benefits Us
If we look at a bee, it is a super-efficient optimized creature that is able to use a very small amount of energy to achieve a huge ecological impact. It can pollinate hundreds of flowers on a single flight. It can do this and still turn a profit in terms of honey which is then stored.
The fact that bees can regulate and manage their metabolisms allows them to overwinter. We can help them by feeding them sugar. This then allows us to have more bees in spring, and early crops can be pollinated. This allows us to produce more humans, and with more humans, we have more beekeepers and more bees.
This is a case of a super-evolved animal, that is highly efficient, forming a symbiosis with a primitive monkey with a big brain! And what a beautiful symbiosis.
If you enjoyed this, please share widely – we need this information to get out there to all our other big-brained monkeys that may wish to become symbionts with bees.