- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
We know that honey bees work hard. They forage for food within a four-mile range of their hive. They can fly up to 15 miles per hour, and their wings can beat about 200 times per second, or 12,000 beats per minute. Sometimes they'll visit 50 to 100 flowers on a collection trip. No wonder worker bees live only four to six weeks during their peak season. They literally work themselves to death.
Matan Shelomi, doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, responded. He answers scores of questions on Quora. (He won a Shorty award for his answer to "If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?”).
Shelomi took the bee question to heart.
"Nope," he wrote. "No blood vessels."
"A heart attack is when fatty deposits, clots, etc. block the coronary artery that leads to the heart muscle. Blood flow to the heart muscle itself (as opposed to the pumping chambers) stops, so the muscle dies and the heart stops beating. So to have a heart attack, you need a heart and arteries."
"Insects have a heart, sometimes, but no arteries or veins. They have an open circulatory system: all their organs just float in a goo called 'hemolymph' that is a combination of lymph and blood. Some insects, bees included, have a heart and an aorta (the vessel leading out of the heart) that pumps the blood and gives it some semblance of direction (from the back of the insect to the front), but beyond that there is no circulatory system. The heart floats in the hemolymph along with everything else. No way to stop it from receiving blood flow, because it's surrounded by it.
"Furthermore, unlike human blood, insect blood doesn't carry oxygen. They have a special network of tubes called trachea that provide oxygen: think of it having air vessels go from your lungs all throughout your body instead of blood vessels. Conceivably the trachea leading to an insect heart could all get blocked by something from the outside, which would be the closest thing to a 'heart attack' in an insect, but there's no record of that happening and its unlikely anyway. So, nope, no insect can have a heart attack. Scare them to your heart's content."
So, this month being "American Heart Month" and all, we don't have to worry about honey bees having heart attacks. All drones (male bees), however, pay the ultimate price when they mate with a queen. During the in-flight mating process, parts of the male anatomy are ripped out and they die.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
That was basically the question that UC Davis entomologist/doctoral candidate Matan Shelomi answered on Quora.
Shelomi answered it so well that he tied for a first-place Shorty Award, the social media-equivalent of an Oscar. The Shorties are given annually to the best producers of short content on social media, as determined by popular vote. The question, posted on Quora, the popular question-and-answer website which engages worldwide users, drew scores of answers, but Shelomi's answer went viral and resulted in an invitation to the fourth annual star-studded Shorty Awards ceremony on March 26 in Times Square, New York City.
And nobody was more surprised than Matan Shelomi.
“I’ve been posting on Quora for a few months now after my sophomore roommate from Harvard, who works there, invited me to it. Not to question a website with employees from Harvard, I signed up. I occasionally go on there and post answers to entomology questions, especially if I get an e-invite to answer a specific question. I’ve answered more than 100 questions so far.”
"I saw this one question on ‘If you injure a bug, should you kill it’ on Nov 30, 2011 and was dissatisfied with the answers, which mostly answered from a religious or philosophical standpoint. I looked up insect pain reception briefly and answered it. I had no idea my response would be so popular! Apparently it's a question a lot of people had. It was popularized on Gawker as one of the 'most demented questions on Quora.' "
“They liked my answer, though. That was surprising enough, and later I got an email out of the blue saying I had been nominated for a Shorty, 'The Oscars of Twitter.' "
“Looks like the philosophers and theists have made their cases. As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don't feel ‘pain,’ but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don't have emotions. If you heavily injure an insect, it will most likely die soon: either immediately because it will be unable to escape a predator, or slowly from infection or starvation. Ultimately this crippling will be more of an inconvenience to the insect than a tortuous existence, so it has no ‘misery’ to be put out of but also no real purpose anymore. If it can't breed anymore, it has no reason to live.
“In other words, I have not answered your question because, as far as the science is concerned, neither the insect nor the world will really care either way. Personally, though, I'd avoid doing more damage than you've already done. 1) Maybe the insect will recover, depending on how damaged it is. 2) Some faiths do forbid taking animal lives, so why go out of your way to kill? 3) You'll stain your shoe.”
Shelomi's answer drew widespread praise on Quora, including:
--“This, by far, is the funniest answer I have read on Quora. Not only the funniest answer, but also the funniest show of authority on a subject. You have to love the casualness of it and the mockery aspect. Funny and yet not frivolous. Well done. 10/10. I will read it again now.”
--“Great answer, the shoe comment is what really sold it.”
Shelomi's response was subsequently nominated for “best answer on Quora," a new category of the Shorties. Another commitment prevented him from being at the Times Square award ceremony, held March 26, but he posted his "equally short" video acceptance speech. He earlier recorded it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, where he studies insect physiology.
As it turned out, Shelomi shared the first-place award in the Quora category with former police officer Justin Freeman, now an evangelical pastor in Mountain Grove, Mo., who answered “What’s the best way to escape the police in a high-speed car chase?”
If you have a question, you, too, can post it on Quora. And if it's an entomological question, you just might get a creative answer from Matan Shelomi.