Do Bees Have Knees?

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Unraveling the Mystery of Honey Bee Knees

I know that most of you have heard the catchy phrase, “you are the bees knees”. What exactly does this mean? Is it a complimentary phrase or an insult? And by the way, do bees have knees? This seems to be a rather important fact to know about this remarkable insects and their anatomy or is it?

Close up shot of honey bee knees on legs image.

Bees are one of our favorite insects and we have thousands of types of them to enjoy. Some people like then so much they decide to become beekeepers. Having your own beehives is a wonderful hobby.

Thousands of stinging insects kept in a box – sounds like fun, right? Once you decide to get started with beekeeping, people will think you know everything about every kind of bee. This is not true of course.

We could study the honey bee for thousands of years without revealing all of their secrets. Yet we still hear many interesting bee questions.

Thought provoking questions like: Do Bees Sleep? (They do by the way). And many other questions from people that may not really understand the differences between bees and wasps.

Experienced beekeepers often talk about how much they still don’t know after years of having a beehive. Bee life is a very complex thing.

Still, at some point someone will ask you : Do bees have knees. And if so, why are they special. You may come up with a quirky comeback but just in case they really want to know – let’s discuss it.

Honey bees foraging how many knees do bees have image.

The Bees Knees – A Catchy Phrase

People love to use catchy phrases. If the phrase rhymes and seems silly, that’s even better. The term bees knees seems to just roll off the tongue without a lot of effort.

When did this term come into use? Do we know who was the first person to use it? Sadly, no. None one knows who was the first to utter the phrase.

But, we do know that this term came into common use in the 1920’s in the United States.

For a brief time period, the use of silly slang terms became popular. This period also brought us such remembered phrases as : ant’s pants and cat’s pajamas.

What Does the Phrase “Bees Knees” Mean?

Bees knees referred to something that was extraordinary or excellent beyond compare. To have this term expressed about you was a compliment of the highest sort.

Not surprising as in most respects being compared to a bee is a good thing. They work hard and yes they do sting but only when provoked.

Do Bees Actually Have Knees?

Yes indeed, bees do have knees. In order to understand, we need to think about the definition of a knee.

In humans, the knee is the major joint in the mid-section of the leg.
The knee joins the femur bone to the tibia bone.

It makes bending of the leg and natural movement possible. Without knees our lives and way of movement would be much different.

The Merrian-Webster Dictionary includes this description of a knee: “the joint between the femur and tibia of an insect”.

The bee does indeed have leg parts called the femur and tibia. This confirms that bees do have a body part that is generally referred to as a knee.

Honey Bee Legs are Complex

Honey bee legs need a wide range of motion. Legs are used in many bee activities.

Like other insects, honey bee legs are made up of segments. These segments are joined together by muscles and tendons. This allows a wide range of motion by bee legs.

Honey bee legs are suited to assist in : construction of honeycomb cells when bees make beeswax, removing unwanted intruders and pests from the hive, cleaning their antenna before flight and more.

Parts of a honey bee leg labeled image.

6 Sections of a Honey Bee Leg

  1. Coxa
  2. Trochanter
  3. Femur
  4. Tibia
  5. Basitarsus
  6. Tarsi

The main junctions between the femur and tibia of a bee is considered the bee’s knees.

This term is also applied to Bumble Bees. They have a similar leg structure and also carry pollen on their hind legs.

The difference between the legs of a human and bee is easily noticed. The bee has a much more complex leg anatomy than humans.

How Many Knees do Bees Have?

Honey bees have 6 legs. They are attached to the thorax in 3 pairs with 3 legs on each side.

The largest connector is the “emoro-tibial joint”. This is the section that bends most like a human knee and allows the lower leg and foot area to bend and move.

Some sources consider the main joint of each leg to be a knee-so there would be 6 knees in place.

Others feel that this term should only refer to the joint of the hind legs. The choice is yours.

Is this Phrase Really Connected to Honey Bees?

Ok, so does this phrase really have anything to do with bees? We don’t really know.

Some believe the colorful balls of pollen hanging on the lower section of worker bee legs were responsible for the term.

Bees look impressive carrying large loads of pollen in their pollen baskets. It is a sign of hard work and wealth for the colony. Bees collect pollen and use it to raise young. To say that something was “the bees knees” would imply that it was really cool or impressive.

Another possibility is plain human silliness. Maybe people just like it because it rhymes and is fun to say! Sometimes people are a bit harder to understand than bees.

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