The Disappearing Bees: Facts, Research and Myths

| 7/22/2011 12:41:04 PM

L.HoltWell, I didn’t get to see as much of the bee-a-thon as I wanted to last Saturday, but there are a few things I learned. Fun facts, mythology, iconic symbolism and conservation of disappearing bees were just a few of the topics the bee-a-thon covered.

First, a bit about the scientific classification of bees. The family name is Apidae, which includes honey bees, stingless bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, orchid bees and cuckoo bees. The first three species in that list form colonies, and the others are solitary. Some species carry flower nectar to fee larvae rather than pollen. The most common bee species in the Northern Hemisphere is sweat bees, but the most well known are honey bees—most of the honey bees that are raised by beekeepers in the U.S. come from Italy and Germany.  Interestingly, I learned that honey bees can’t see red, but they can see all other colors human can, plus ultraviolet blue, and they navigate with a combination of cues form gravity, vision and the location of the sun.

One of my favorite aspects of the bee-a-thon was its recognition of the global importance of bees and their interaction with the world community and environment. I got to see part of an interview with Dr. Peter Kwapong, director of the International Stingless Bee Centre For Research in Ghana. The Centre is an environmental and educational resource investigating the activities and biodiversity conservation of stingless bees. The Centre is also intended to encourage food and medicinal production and be a source of eco-tourism and job-creation for the country. I felt that the point of a need for interaction between scientific researchers and the general community was especially relevant, and it links in perfectly with the Great Bee Count and the Great Sunflower Project.   

Gretchen LeBuhn an Associate Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara is the person who began the Great Bee Count. The intent of the project is to engage communities in caring for and aiding the conservation of bees. Each 15-minute session of watching your garden and counting bees helps to create a map of bee population density and migration habits. The technology available to us now will help to spread this information so that we can determine the true health of bee populations as well as examine the breadth of bee species in the world.  

Join the Great Bee Count to help save these helpful pollinators.
Photo by Paul Stein/Courtesy

One thing that I wanted to see but ended up missing was information about the cultural mythology surrounding bees. I thought that sounded fascinating, so I when I realized I’d missed the segment I did some extra research.

According to the information I was able to find, bees appear in the iconology of ancient culture of the near east and the Aegeans, often representing a bridge between the physical world of the living and the spiritual world of the dead. Other cultures have viewed the bee as the human soul that flees the body at death. The bee was also venerated in some Mayan cities, as well as in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Priestesses of Artemis and Demeter were called bees, and priestesses of Potnia, a Minoan-Mycenean goddess, were called “Melissa” (bee—also the root of the scientific name for lemon balm, Melissa officinalis). Egyptian myth tells that the first bees were formed from the tears of Ra (the sun god). Heraldry uses the bee as a symbol of diligence and constant effort, and this beneficial insect has served as a symbol of royalty in several cultures. Bees were—due to their association with immortality and resurrection.  

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