A Fascination with Bees

I have always been fascinated by bees and it is always a joy when they crop up in books and articles that I am reading. In each article I always learn something new.

In ‘What on Earth Happened?… In Brief (the planet, life and people from the big bang to the present day)’ by Christopher Lloyd, I learned that bees descended from wasps and emerged at the same time as the first flowers. Bees switched from dining on other insects to a diet of pollen and nectar. I had no idea that there are 20,000 different species of bee alive today. Some of these, especially honey-bees, bumble-bees and stingless bees form highly social groups that offer a deep insight into how nature’s civilizations work.

Bees are eusocial creatures and divide up jobs between themselves. They pass knowledge and learning on from one generation to another, care for their youngsters and even, in certain circumstances, sacrifice lives for the benefit of the group. Such characteristics were for a long time thought to be unique to mankind when it first organized itself into tribes and eventually cities and states.

But, as any beekeeper will tell you this is not so…

In her book ‘The Morville Hours’, Katherine Swift, who is a beekeeper, shares many interesting snippets about bees. One thing she mentions is that bees are now threatened by Varroa which is a parasitic mite endemic in most countries. It arrived in the UK in the mid 1990s. The mites attach themselves to the bees and weaken their bodies’ immune system. This is easy to treat in domesticated bees, but not in wild bees and if left untreated, it can lead to the extinction of whole colonies.

In a recent article in the National Trust magazine, Emma Hill, the head gardener for Dunham Massey, explains how the bee keepers at Dunham Massy deal with the virus by using icing sugar to treat it. The sugar is sprinkled onto the bees through a fine mesh. This encourages the bees to groom which removes the mite.

Emma also tells us that the keeping of bees in hives dates back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians and that a bee society is predominantly female.

Emma has been studying bee behaviour and has observed that when their stomachs are full of honey they are happy and emit a low hum, whereas a high pitched hum means that they are angry. Bees have two stomachs; the extra one is for storing honey.

Worker bees can fly up to two miles to collect, nectar, pollen, propolis and water. They perform their figure of eight waggle dance to indicate to other bees where to forage.

On my recent holiday to Northumberland I visited a honey farm where I was able to see the bees in action and see how the honey was prepared for distribution to the public. I was also able to sample the products and was tempted to purchase a jar of Heather Honey which has a delightful taste.

I say long live the bee.

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One thought on “A Fascination with Bees

  1. What a lovely post, as for the photo, I love that vivid red!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChantal

    This is absolutely fascinating! I’ve often wondered about bees..and their bee-keepers. They are one of the few ‘insects’ – I think as as beautiful. Love the vibrant image!
    And – welcome Cherry!!! Great to have you onboard!!!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcie

    A lovely photo and interesting post. I agree, long live the bees!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

    It was just a couple years ago in the States, Cherie, when I became first aware of the danger to bees and their possible extinction. Every time I see a photo of a bee on a blog, I rejoice. Yes, we need the bees! I love all the trivia tidbits you’ve given us here…like getting my ‘fix’ for the day. THANK YOU. And welcome to V&V!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie

    Wonderful post Cherie. Welcome to V&V. I once attended a lecture on bees. Very interesting and bees are very important for our well-being / the well-being of the planet. no bees, no fertilization, no crops
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPOBSB

    i guess you can imagine with a name like “honey,” people have been giving me bee things, bee books, and actual honey for a looooong time. my studio is often referred to as “the hive,” and we often think of ourselves as either drones or queens.

    loved this post. LOVE the bees.

    welcome to v&v.
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhoney

    Cherie, what a delightful post! I love bees (but not honey, weird, I know) and I am so glad that I now know what the low hum means. I have many many bees in my garden and I just enjoy their humming when they’re hovering around the flowers and tree blossoms. It has something very peaceful.
    Welcome to V&V!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarola

    I love this! I have a deep love for bees as well, as a gardener I always say “Bees are my friend.” (Mostly to my husband who is afraid of them!) Bumblebees are my favorite, but I love to hear the hum of hundreds of honey bees as they work over a patch of lamb’s ears. Thanks for such a lovely, informative post!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly

    A very informative post on the honey bee. I found the difference in their humming very interesting and very good to know. I used to be afraid of honey bees, but when I had my flower garden we co-existed quite well, each of us intent on the task at hand – me weeding, then pollinating. Lovely to have you join us here today.
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterToni

    Great informative post and love your image! I have mixed feelings towards bees… I’m a bit afraid of them but I’m really fascinated by their ‘social’ life and organisation, and I love honey! Welcome aboard, Cherry!
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersil

    Very informative post about bees, Cherry! Just yesterday I was taking shots of busy bees in our garden :). I’ve heard of the problems with bees and viruses, so I hope we will work on this and save them from disappearing… I believe we’re creating problems, using too many insecticides and other poisonous materials…
    But I’m optimistic and believe we can do better.
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercreatissimo

    Thank you all for your kind comments. I am glad you found the post interesting 🙂

    The photo was a lucky shot, the bee flew off just as I clicked the shutter…

    🙂
    July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie

    Cherry, lovely photo and great post. As you already know by now, I love anything nature related. Great site too, I must stay and have a look around 🙂
    July 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChrissy

    Cherry, brilliant, vibrant image! Wow…what an interesting look into the world of bees. Thank you for your excellent and insightful post!!
    July 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermarysherman

    What a bright and beautiful photo! I share your fascination with bees and have been pretty worried about how many are dying lately. People don’t seem to realize how important of a job they carry out with their pollination. I gained some new facts from your post. Thanks!
    July 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaery Rose

    I love a bee! This image of the bee is great, it looks like he is just pulling back a wee bit so he can land without skidding …. We have some amazing local honey, different flavors depending on where the bees eat! Thanks for the great post.
    July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKath

    i love those fat fuzzy old british bumblebees (not so keen on the skinny little nasty sneaky ones we have here!!! just read that in south africa, the kruger i think, they have attached bee hives to fencing to keep pesty wild elephants away; they are apparently terrified of bees, just the noise keeps them well away from places they shouldn’t go (like into farmers crops). clever little things aren’t they!!!
    July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEliza

    This is so interesting. I’m slightly fascinated by and am afraid of bees at the same time. Honey is very homeopathic and healthy and I try to eat as much of it as I can. Do you know why there has been so many recorded bee deaths over the last few years? It’s been told that the bee population reflects the health of the planet as a whole. Anyway…thanks for the post and I will sit and ponder now…
    July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPuna

    Since I wrote this, but before it was posted here, I was asked if I would review a copy of a book about bee-keeping. I am in the middle of reading it and have already learned so many things I didn’t know about bees.
    July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie

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