Debunking the Myth of Bees’ Knees

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You have surely heard the phrase “you are the bee’s knees”? Do you know what it means? And by the way, do bees have knees? Today, we learn the answer to both of these questions and take a closer look at the admirable honey bee.

Honey bee gathering nectar with knees marked by red circle.

Let’s look more closely at the anatomy of a bee and reveal the existence or not of the aforementioned structure. Do they have them and if so – what do they do? You may be intrigued by the various parts of a bee and how they fit perfectly in nature’s plan.

Understanding Insect Bodies

Honey bees are insects. And like all insects, they have 3 distinct body segments, 3 pairs of legs and an external skeleton. Most insects also have wings.

Even though they are very different from humans and other mammals, some of the structures of bees perform similar functions to ours.

They have many joints that help them bend, fly and perform a multitude of tasks. All part of daily life for a bee throughout her lifespan.

Leg Structure

The legs of honey bees are used in many daily activities and require a wide range of motion. This is possible because of many segments that are joined together by muscles and tendons.

Therefore, they can twist and bend in all the ways needed to construct the thousands of honeycomb cells inside the hive.

Worker bees must also be agile enough to collect and store pollen, clean their antenna before flight and remove unwanted intruders and pests from the hive.

Labeled segments of a honey bee leg and knee.

Where are The Bee’s Knees?

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 and natural movements possible.

In honey bees, we find a much more complex structure with more distinct segments. Before we can define the bee’s knees let’s define what a knee is.

What is a Knee?

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

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

The main junctions between the femur and tibia of a bee is considered the bee’s knees. Of course, they do not have a knee cap (patella) but they don’t really need one.

Honey bees doing various tasks using joints like knees, gather propolis, gather pollen and collect nectar.

The Debate

Believe it or not, scientists do not always agree on how many knees bees have! You might think the obvious answer is 6.

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 knee-like-so there would be 6 knees on a bee. Others feel that this term should only refer to the joint of the hind legs – resulting in only 2.

There you have it – another bee controversy that even the experts can’t agree on. The choice is yours.

The Symbolism of “The Bee’s Knees”

People love to use catchy phrases and this one has been around for a long time. When did this term come into use? What were the origins of the phrase?

Sadly, no one know who was the first person to utter this phrase. It began in the 18th century in the Americas and was used as a prank to describe something that didn’t exist.

By the time it came into common use in the 1920’s, the meaning had changed to something positive. This was during a brief time period, when the use of silly slang terms became popular.


What does the phrase “Bee’s Knees” really mean?

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

Is this phrase really connected to honey bees?

Ok, so does this phrase or idiom 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.

Do honey bees really have knees?

Yes, they do but their leg structure is different than that of humans.

Final Thoughts

We could study the honey bee for thousands of years without revealing all of their secrets. Yet, we still wonder about many aspects of their lives.

Thought provoking questions like: Do bees sleep and what are the differences between bees and wasps are good topics for conversation.

At some point someone may ask you: Do bees have knees? Now you know exactly how to answer their question with a quirky comeback.

Now for some of the other fancy phrases like “the cat’s pajamas”, “cat’s whiskers”, “cat’s meow” or “monkey’s eyebrows” – I can’t help you with that.

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