According to …

….Arthur Dobbs Esq, in a letter published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, on 1 January 1753: “M. Reaumur has very justly observed, that, besides the three transparent smooth Eyes, which the Bee has placed in a Triangle betwixt the Antennae on the Top of its Head, the Bee has also on each Side of its Head an Eye, or rather a Multitude of Eyes, form’d by a Number of distinct Lens’s surrounded each with short Hairs, which are confirm’d to be Eyes, both from Swammerdam, and in his own Experiments to determine it; and that, when darkened by Paint laid over them, the Bees could not find their Way to their Hive, tho’ at a small Distance, but soar’d directly upwards; nor could they find their Way when the three smooth Eyes were darkened.

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Jan Swammerdam


beemouth17th century Dutch beekeeper and all-round genius JAN SWAMMERDAM was responsible for a great leap forward in our understanding of honeybees. Using this early microscope he produced incredible drawings such as the one on the right, showing the complex structures that make up the bee’s mouthparts.

In the name of science, he had a go at eating some honeybee larvae. His verdict: raw – “very disagreeable”, tasting of “rusty bacon”; and boiled – “they have a somewhat more agreeable taste, but if one continues chewing them, the former taste prevails again.” (If any of our members are tempted to recreate this experiment, we would love to share the experience in a future newsletter.)

Swammerdam lived through a period known as the Dutch Golden Age, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the artist Rembrandt, the mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens, and the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza.


If you are interested in finding out more about Swammerdam, go to from where these pictures were sourced.