Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Honey Bee Evolution

A report published in The New York Times relates that only 28 percent of public high school biology teachers are following teaching recommendations to “describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology.” Thirteen percent of the biology teachers explicitly advocate creationism, and 60 percent avoid the subject altogether. The Times report: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/science/08creationism.html?hpw.

A beekeeper tries to explain the complexity of the honey bee’s social behavior in a colony that appears to be as organized as a city full of people. He says that such a well-organized colony can only be the result of creation by a higher being of great intelligence, and he struggles to find bee hive examples of what he calls “intelligent design.” There is wondrous activity among these social insects, but the honey bee colony is certainly not perfect. The colony gathers and produces its own food, increases its numbers and expands its territory. It regulates the temperature and atmosphere of its hive. It can even produce a new queen when one is need. However, there are times when the life cycle of the honey bee colony becomes dead-ended. When dealing with a poorly mated queen, an egg-laying worker, or a queen failing to lay fertile eggs, a colony often becomes hopelessly queenless and then dwindles and dies. Rather than the product of an “intelligent design,” today’s honey bee colony can be better understood as the result of millions of years of evolution in a changing environment. Those colonies that inherited traits, altered by mutations, that make them more survivable in the present environment pass along those traits to their offspring. They replace other less suited colonies that either die or are less successful in reproducing. The replacement of less suited species has been seen recently in the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis, insecticide-resistant bed bugs, herbicide-resistant Palmer pigweed, and Varroa mites resistant to the miticides used by beekeepers. Today’s photo: beekeeper Richard Underhill.

1 comment:

  1. The final paragraph of this NY Times article provides a chilling summation.

    “With 15 to 20 percent of biology teachers teaching creationism,” he continued, “this is the biggest failure in science education. There’s no other field where teachers reject the foundations of their science like they do in biology.”

    Thanks for the post, and the heads-up on this article.