I’m worried about the bees. I’ve read many articles saying that bees are dying off—in drastic numbers. Why? Researchers cite several factors: pesticides, parasites, viruses, loss of habitat, poor nutrition, genetics, and even cell towers.
We should be concerned about the decline of bees, because their decline poses a serious threat to human survival. That’s because bees pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables we humans rely on. I am vividly reminded of this every time I drive onto our provincial house property. When you drive in, you immediately see the beautiful apple orchards spread out on both sides of the driveway. But you must look a little harder to see the beehives nestled near the tree line. The fact is: there would be no apple crop in the fall without those bees in the spring!
So let’s take a closer look at bees—simply to appreciate them more. First of all, there are 20,000 different species of bees including bumblebees, carpenter bees, killer bees, and honeybees.
Honeybees live in colonies with a queen bee, worker bees, and drones. The queen has only one job: lay eggs. The worker bees are all females. The name worker bee is appropriate since they literally do all the work in the colony. They clean the hive, collect the nectar, make the honey, and care for the young. The drones are all males. They have only one job: mate with the queen. No respectable drone would ever be caught dead with a broom and dustpan in his hands! I’ll let you decide if there are any parallels with humans. (Hee!)
Here are a few more facts about bees:
- Honeybees flap their wings 11,000 times per minute, creating their distinctive buzzing sound. They can fly 15 miles per hour. How high can bees fly? Bumblebees win the title for “highest flyers.” Researchers have spotted them at altitudes over 10,000 feet!
- Honeybees have 170 odorant receptors. They use their keen sense of smell to
recognize who belongs in their hive and who does not belong. They kick out intruders. Honeybees can differentiate hundreds of different floral varieties too. They know the distinctive scents of a rhododendron, peony, rose, and azalea.
- A worker bee visits between 50-100 flowers on a single trip, sucking nectar into her “honey stomach” which is different from her food stomach. Back at the hive she passes the nectar to other worker bees who chew it for quite some time to turn it into honey. Then they store this food in honeycomb cells, sealing the cells with wax. Whew! All that work! Little wonder that, in the summer, worker bees usually live for only 40 days. Drones also live about 40 days. All that mating with the queen must wear them out. The queen lives for about 5 years, but she’s “past her prime” after three years.
- Honeybees are the only insect that produces food eaten by humans. Their honey is not only nutritional, it is also therapeutic and medicinal.
- When a honeybee “scout” has found a good source of food, she returns to the hive and performs a “waggle dance.” This dance tells the other worker bees the direction of the food source and its distance from the hive.
- Bees navigate using the sun, the polarization pattern of the blue sky, and the earth’s magnetic field. They prefer to use the sun, but they use the other two on a cloudy day or inside a dark hive. And keep in mind, the bees do all this navigating using a brain the size of a sesame seed! And they never have to ask Siri for directions!
What can be done to slow the decline of the bee population? First, more research is needed to pinpoint the exact causes for their decline and to develop ways to protect and nurture a healthy bee population. This research often comes in the form of tax dollars. Someone remarked, “We should fear the decline of bees more than terrorism…” Interesting. Secondly, we need to encourage amateur beekeeping. (Are any of you already beekeepers? Or do you know anyone who is?) A third step is to encourage people to grow a wide variety of plants that would be beneficial for bees.
And finally, we can show respect for these tiny creatures and teach our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to appreciate and respect them too.
Bees remind us of the connectedness of all living things. With that in mind I chose an excerpt from the song “Circle of Life” written by Elton John for The Lion King. When I saw the play in Cleveland, I confess that the words of the song coupled with the array of animals parading onto the stage in the opening scene actually moved me to tears. I kept saying to myself, “What a magnificent world God had created for us! Wow!”… Here’s the song:
What has been your experience with bees?
Did anything in this reflection stand out for you? Is there anything you would add? I’d love to hear from you!