I love bees. There’s something wonderful about the way they organise themselves.
The queen bee is raised from a larvae that is fed protein rich royal jelly. A surviving queen flies out in search of a congregation of drone bees with whom she will mate, often for several days, so that she can spend the rest of her two to seven years laying eggs.
Worker bees are non-queen females and they do the majority of work around the hive. They are the ones who collect pollen from flowers in order to make honey. Worker bees will regularly fly six kilometers in order to find flowers and they use mind maps to find their way home. Pollen carried on their bodies will often rub off on the pistil of other flowers and fertilize them. Well over 50% of the the world’s food supply is directly or indirectly affected by honey bee pollination.
Worker bees also clean the hexagonal cells in which larvae grow, and nurse bees feed the larvae jelly. Other bees cool the hive by evaporating water and directing airflow. Guard bees stand at the front of the hive to protect it from invaders like wasps. Forager bees scout for sources of nectar or pollen. Mortuary bees carry failed larvae and dead bees away from the hive. A beehive is an incredibly complicated and interesting community.
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It makes me sad to say that global honey bee populations are under threat. New research suggests that European honey bees are being poisoned by up to 57 different pesticides; and because they travel so far it is hard to prevent them from being exposed to these pesticides. Even low levels of exposure can weaken bees’ immune systems so they are more vulnerable to viruses and parasites like the varroa mite.
I’m writing this column having just returned from the funeral of a friend. Writing about bees feels like palaver in comparison. Many Victoria students lost somebody they loved on Friday, March 25 when Tristan Hunter came off his longboard. Science isn’t visceral like grief but I think that bees can teach us a lot about what a beautiful thing community is and how powerful it can be when you are faced with adversity. I hope we all do our best to look after the bees and I hope everyone does all they can to look after each other. I will miss you Tristan.