The importance of the honey bee was realized by many ancient civilizations. The Greeks, Egyptians, Western Europeans, East Indians, among others have mystical stories of the Bee Goddesses.
One of the Greek versions tells of a group of three nymphs (also the name for the bee larva), a group called Melissae, who taught Apollo to see the future and interpret signs and omens given by Nature and the Earth. Melissae began as three but eventually the story says she became the one who served The Great Mother. Melissae is translated to ‘the Queen Bee”. There are many many stories involving Melissae all of which speak of her great importance to The Great Mother.
My daughter and traveling companion, Melissa, accompanied me to Greece where we saw the mural pictured above. I very much wanted to purchase a honey bee necklace for her. As we spoke with the vendor he referred to the honey bee as the plankton of the Earth. I just love the idea. Plankton supports life in the oceans as the bee supports life on land.
The honey-carrying bee or Apis Mellifera is indeed a very important member of the Earthly population. This 120 milligram insect holds the power of Earthly life or death in its fragile body .
“If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Albert Einstein (http://www. benefits-of-honey.com/albert-einstein.html)
This amazing creature, the bee, originated in Asia over a million years ago. There are over 20,000 bee species seven of which are honey bees. Bees are found on every continent with the exception of present day Antarctica. Today we are interested in the European Honey Bee brought to the western world by Europeans.
Life is not an easy one for the bee. A complete metamorphosis is required before the bee can get down to the business of making honey. This fragile creature comes into the world as an egg laid in a wax cell. From the egg comes a legless larva, molting several times before becoming a pupa and then an adult. As for the gender of the bee the queen makes this decision. She knows what her hive requires. She uses the sperm stored in her body to fertilize eggs which become female, unfertilized eggs will be males. The newborns will become a queen or egg layer, a nurse bee to clean the hive and feed the larva, a worker, always female, to locate food or a drone, always male, to mate with the queen ( not as great as it sounds for he drops dead afterwards).
The bee as an insect requires a head, thorax, and abdomen. Along for the ride are six legs, two sets of wings, two compound eyes housing thousands of lenses, three simple eyes and a nectar pouch. The bee sports two antenna which enable it to distinguish between varieties of flowers and whether they have pollen or nectar from meters away. Its abdomen and legs are covered with hairs called scopal hairs that collect pollen. Mites live on these hairs that eat a fungi that attacks the pollen. Only the worker bee has a stinger and dies at the time of the sting.
The food the bee produces is the only insect manufactured food eaten by humans. We use, some say exploit, bees for their honey and wax. The wax is actually part of the hive and the honey the bee’s winter food.
We enjoy honey for its taste, energy boost and much more.
“Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it’s the only food that contains “pinocembrin”, an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.” (http://www.benefits-of-honey.com/honey-bee-facts.html)
Bees wax is used to make candles, for beauty products, sealing envelopes, waterproofing, for gum, in cooking, for pain relief and as an anti itching product just to name a few.
This is all very nice but is NOT the purpose of the bee. POLLINATION done by bees is what life on Earth is all about. Nourishment for all creatures begins with plants and the bee sustains much of the plant life. As the bee visits flowers for nectar to feed on and pollen for the larva it also moves pollen from the flower’s male reproductive organs to the female reproductive organs making it possible for plants to produce seeds. Seeds are enclosed within the fruits and vegetables that nourish all Earth’s creatures. Seeds produce more flora allowing the cycle to continue. It sounds so simple but is in fact incredibly delicate and complicated. Today we are dealing with a decline of what is called the feral bee, the bee in nature. Beekeepers are also having problems with unexpected die-offs in the hives they maintain. For this reason entomologists, scientists that study insects and Melittologists, those who specifically study bees are researching bees with great urgency. It is hypothesized that much of the problem has been caused by what scientists have named Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD.
For years humans have tried to manipulate nature striving to produce the perfect fruits and vegetables in great quantities on the smallest piece of earth possible. To do so we have created pesticides only being concerned with their effect on humans. It appears we did not learn from Rachel Carson’s research on the effects of pesticides on birds and their eggs. We have also altered farming practices and have had extremely unpredictable weather patterns caused by what I believe is global warming. It is thought that a combination of these concerns is causing CCD and the general loss of bees.
In response to the decline of bees beekeeping has become big business. Pollination Services are now available to farmers. Beehives are rented through a broker. Brett Adee is the largest broker in the United States with 60,000 hives in its apiary. Generally each hive has one queen and 10,000 to 30,000 workers. The number of workers increases as the summer goes on and there may be as many as 50,000 to 60,000 worker bees per hive. The number of hives and length of stay depends on the crop and the number of blossoms per acre. The average stay is between three and five weeks.
Semi trucks carry the bee hives to their destination. To keep the bees calm and in their hives the trucks are loaded at night and the hives are covered with nets. Each truck can move between 400 and 500 hives. The bees move with the season all over the country most of the year. The rental cost depends on the crop.
I remember the first time I saw the bee truck come into the neighborhood. A flatbed full of white box like hives. A few hives were dropped off and the truck was on its way up the peninsula. The apple blossoms were not yet open but the yard of our rented house was full of dandelions. I opened the door to the yard and heard a great buzzing sound. In the yard were hundreds of bees tending to the dandelions. I walked among them without incident. Once the apple blossoms appeared the bees were busy elsewhere. The hives were later collected. Over time the trees became heavy with fruit.
Here the bees are working with cherry blossoms. Cherries are a huge part of Michigan’s economy. Without these little creatures the crop would not be realized. For me the entire process is nothing less than a miracle….a grand plan of sorts. Scientists continue studying the bee both for its survival and continued success with pollination. The Traverse City Record-Eagle, Saturday, May 14, 2016 Business/Farm Focus section includes an article, “Grant Funds Pollination Study by Nikki Rothwell discussing a current pollination study being done by MSU students. It is worth a read.
The next time you see a bee think of its amazing purpose and let it go on about its business. Bees in every sense of the word are our future. I want the Earth’s beauty to be available for my family as it continues.
“Unique among all God’s creatures, only the honeybee improves the environment and preys not on any other species.”