Mr. Joel Minderhoud, science teacher in Covenant Christian High School and member of Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Every spring and summer a vital activity occurs in farm fields, greenhouses, and gardens around the globe. Pollen, produced by flowering plants, will be transported from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the pistil (female part of a flower), fertilizing the plant for the production of seed for the future propagation of the plant. This seemingly insignificant, and perhaps bothersome (for allergy sufferers) process plays a vital role within the creation. One particular purpose of this pollination process is that it is the orderly manner in which God sovereignly governs creation so that future generations of plants will continue to exist and produce the necessary food for both man and animal. Almost all of our food comes from flowering plants and by means of the pollination process. Foods such as grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables are from flowering plants. “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth” (Ps. 104:14). It is in this way of pollination that God chooses to give us our daily sustenance.

But flowering plants and the pollination process are important to us also for reasons other than their being the source of our daily food. Flowering plants are the source of many commercial dyes and many over-thecounter drugs (aspirin), as well as controlled substances, such as marijuana and tobacco. Even much of our clothing (cotton) is made from flowering plants. Besides all of these pragmatic uses of the flowering plants, the flowering plants also serve to adorn the creation with beautiful color and aromas. Thanks be to God for the good gift of flowering plants and the vitally important process of pollination.

God sovereignly directs several methods of pollination, including, but not limited to, the wind, insects, birds, bats, and pollinator robots no less. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on bee pollination, examining three unique characteristics given to bees that display God’s marvelous design used to bring about another generation of plants. May God use a brief study such as this to lead us to contemplate the majesty of our Creator and His many wise designs that serve our good and His glory. “In all Thy works and vast designs, Thy faithfulness forever shines” (Psalter #241, stanza 7b).

Vibration pollination

Flowers have a male fertilizing organ called a stamen. At the top of the stamen are sac-like structures called anthers, where the pollen is produced and dispersed. When a bee lands on a flower, its hair attracts the pollen grains and the pollen is distributed as it moves from flower to flower. In this way, bees seeking nectar from flowers inadvertently spread pollen from flower to flower. This is the basic manner in which bees pollinate flowering plants.

But the pollination process is much more complex than we have just described. First, it is worth noting that bees visit flowers not only for nectar but also for pollen. The pollen is far more protein-rich than the nectar and serves the bee for its growth, especially the growth and development of the bee larvae back in the bee nest. While seeking nectar and pollen for its own nourishment, the bee also passes pollen from flower to flower. Pollen-spreading is therefore not simply an incidental result of bees seeking nectar, but also a consequence of bees foraging for the pollen.

The anthers of some flowers are long and narrow, completely sealing the pollen within (called poricidal anthers). In addition, the pollen is strongly attached to the inner walls of these anthers. No casual contact with a butterfly or other pollinator will transfer this pollen. The release of pollen from these anthers requires the shaking of the anther at a particular frequency. That frequency depends on the stiffness, mass, and material properties of the flower, and is even influenced by the bee shifting its weight and grip on the flowers. Scientists have found that poricidal anthers release their pollen when vibrated with a frequency between 100 and 400 Hertz. Perfectly fit by God, bumblebees are capable of making vibrations in the range necessary to dislodge the pollen from the poricidal anthers—from 240-450 Hz. (For musically inclined persons, these are roughly the frequencies ranging from middle C to A). When a bumblebee lands on a flower, it might bite off part of the anther, and then, using its powerful wing muscles vibrate its body, shaking the pollen out of the anther. Because not every bee or pollinator can make these vibrations, bumblebees enjoy limited competition for pollen from plants with poricidal anthers, since God has wisely fitted them to vibrate at the exact frequencies necessary to release the pollen from these anthers. What a marvelous and wise Creator we serve!

Stinky footprints

Bumblebees, like many insects, secrete chemicals from their feet—foot pheromones, or trail pheromones, sometimes referred to as scent marks. For bumblebees, this foot-secreted chemical aids them in adhering to flowers. Besides this, with its unique and strong odor (lasting up to 24 hours), the chemical communicates what flowers ought to be visited. Research indicates that the chemical footprint has an odor that acts as a repellent to other bumblebees, thus discouraging them from visiting a flower that has just recently had its nectar harvested. Research also indicates that the chemical slowly changes composition during those 24 hours, developing into a pleasing odor, which will again attract bees after the flower has had time to replenish the nectar. In this way God equips bumblebees to forage efficiently without making redundant visits for nectar.

Such detail within even the smallest of creation’s creatures testifies of the sovereign design of the Creator and fills us with humility and praise to our God, who cares for the creation in a myriad of ways beyond our daily observation and comprehension.

Unique vision

God has given to the bees a particularly strong sense of smell and a unique gift of deciphering particular odors. For example, bees can discern if the foot odor on a flower is from themselves, a nest mate, or some other bee. Though they have a unique sense of smell, it is used primarily at close range. But it is bees’ unique eyesight that enables them to find particular flowers and to see where to land on that flower as they fly by.

Human eyes are able to detect light in the electromagnetic spectrum from about 400 nanometers (nm; violet) to 700 nm (red), while bees are able to see light around 300 nm (ultraviolet light) to 600 nm (yellow). Bees, therefore, are capable of seeing yellow, blue, and violet but cannot see red. However, it is their ability to see UV light that is of greatest importance. Flowers are created with patterns that reflect the UV light in such a way that it serves to direct the bee to the specific part of the flower where the nectar is located, a sort of nectar “bullseye.” These patterns the human eye cannot see, but they are visible to the bee, which God has equipped to see UV light.

In addition to their eye-sights’ unique range of color, bees also process colors faster than humans and even than any other animal. This ability is important for an insect that generally is in constant motion. Electrical signals from its eyes to its brain are swiftly processed, allowing the bee to gather information very quickly, enabling it to distinguish easily one flower from another as it flies about or as the flower moves in the wind.

God’s vast design and constant faithfulness

We believe and confess “that the Father, by the Word, that is, by His Son, hath created…all creatures…[and given] unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator” (Belgic Confession, Art. 12). In our brief study of the tiny bee with its odorous footprints, unique vision, and vibrating bodies, we are reminded of the important truth that God has perfectly fitted each creature for its role in His creation. All of these unique characteristics serve the purpose of aiding the bee in finding the nectar and pollen so necessary for its survival. But in the process, these characteristics are helpful in distributing the pollen from flower to flower—a process vital to the pollination of plants.

What amazing detail and intricate connections God has woven into His creation! May we remember in our prayers not only to give thanks to God for the good gift of food, but also to contemplate all the intricate and intertwined processes designed and governed every minute of every day by God to provide for His creation. In the coming months, as we see the bees swoop past or hear a nearby buzz, perhaps we can get past the initial fear of stinger and think pollinator—contemplating God’s wise and perfect design.

God’s providential care of all the parts of the creation— from the smallest to the largest—are noted in Scripture in order to remind us of God’s greatness and of His faithfulness. He who clothes the grass of the field (Matt. 6:30), who values the sparrow (Matt. 10:29), who calms the raging sea (Ps. 89:9), and who appointed the ordinances of the heaven and earth (Jer. 33:25) is not only a mighty God, but a faithful God, who cares for all His creatures in all their needs. This almighty God will provide for us in all our temptations (I Cor. 10:13), deliver us from all our enemies (Ps. 41:11; Ps. 54:7; Ps. 108:13; Ps. 109), forgive us all our sins (Ps. 103:3; Ps. 130:4, 7, 8), preserve us through all trials in this life (Ps. 34:19; Ps. 121:5-8; Is. 43:1-7), direct all things to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28), and finally bring us to our eternal home in heaven (Ps. 23:6; Ps. 73:23-24; I Pet. 1:9). As He directs and governs all things in the creation for our physical good (even equipping bees with their unique characteristics to serve the pollination of plants so that crops can grow), so He powerfully and faithfully provides us with all we need as His covenant people.

The examples in the physical creation serve as a reminder to us, an undeserving people by nature, that God will not break His covenant with Christ and those who are in Christ (Ps. 89; Jer. 33). “For him my mercy shall endure, my covenant made with him is sure, His throne and race I will maintain forever, while the heavens remain” (Psalter 243, stanza 6). This all-wise God who faithfully governs the earthly creation is our faithful covenant God. What consolation we have! “In all things which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father…nothing shall separate us from His love; since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 28). Our covenant God is faithful and will preserve us. Thus we are “persuaded that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without His will and permission, they cannot hurt us” (Belgic Confession, Art. 13). As we watch the bees busily buzzing around this summer, praise God for His great wisdom and enduring faithfulness!