I have an irrational fear of being stung by a bee. I’ve probably only been stung twice in my life, both times as a child, but I’m petrified that it will happen again. I’m that girl that shrieks loudly and runs away, as if the bee has nothing better to do than to sting random people at will.
But recently I’ve been doing a lot more research into bees, since there’s been a lot of buzz (ha ha, couldn’t help myself) about the rapidly decreasing bee population, and they’re actually really fascinating! Like, did you know that only the worker bee dies when it stings someone, but not the drone? And that worker bees are sterile? The whole bee colony system is crazy clever… they’ve got a perfect organizational structure, and it’s all inherent to each baby bee born to what they’re expected to do! Even when placed in an artificial hive!
So there’s the queen bee, the drones, and the worker bees. The queen is the largest bee in the colony, and she’s the one that lays all the eggs. Drones are the male bees and their only job is to mate with the queen. Did you know they die immediately afterwards? Harsh. Then, the lowly worker bees… they perform all the laborious activities of the colony. They clean and feed. They produce the wax and shape it into hexagonal cells called comb. They care for the queen. Act as guards. Forage for nectar. Handle incoming nectar. Act as air-conditioners. The list goes on and on. Oh, and they’re all female, and there’s about 55,000 in a colony. With a six week lifespan, I guess that number makes more sense.
So while all this frenzy is going on, an even cooler thing is happening…. honey making! When the workers bees come back with the nectar they pass it from bee to bee, and then the bees regurgitate (ew) the nectar into the comb for storage. As they cool off the hive by flapping their wings the extra water is evaporated and, ta da… honey!
There’s a lot to learn about honey too… this is what I read in an article from this month’s Bon Appétit: “This ultra-compact nutritional powerhouse is said to be the only food capable of passing straight into the bloodstream without requiring digestion. It functions as an antiseptic, burn remedy, relaxant, antioxidant, cupboard staple, even embalming fluid, and keeps indefinitely: Honey discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb was still edible 3,200 years later.” I apologize if your eyes are glazing over.
So, now for the scary part of all this. Worldwide bee populations are showing rapidly decreasing numbers. Scientists first noticed this in 2006, and they can’t seem to figure out any specific cause. Viruses, bacteria, fungal diseases, radiation from cell phone usage… scientists are stumped. The problem with this is not just the lessening of honey production, it’s the effect it has on crop production. Honey Bees are responsible for pollinating over 1/3 of the food that we eat. With one in three bee colonies dying over the past three years this is really bad. And, there’s this famous quote, supposedly attributed to Albert Einstein, floating around the internet: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” Whether he actually said it or not, it’s very frightening that the bees are dying off in such massive numbers.
The lesson from all this? Don’t kill the bees. If you click here you can see how to save a bee… I just love stories like this, and love that she included a you-tube video. Amazing. The bee actually looks pretty cute, huh? But beyond refraining from swatting our friendly buzzing friends, you can plant bee-friendly flowers and stop using pesticides, or if you’re really extreme you could become an urban beekeeper and put a beehive on your roof (yeah right would my landlord say okay to this, and I’m sure the downstairs neighbors would complain bitterly bc that’s just what they like to do). The article referenced above tells the tale… it really is a great read.
Oh, another fun way to help? Support your local beekeepers and buy their honey! And while you’re at it, how about storing it in this adorable honey pot… I think Pooh Bear would be jealous!