Special to the OBSERVER
Bees are fascinating insects closely related to wasps and ants. Unfortunately, most people react negatively to bees because they are afraid of being stung. In fact, it's usually wasps that are the culprits. However, there are nearly 20,000 known types of bees found on every continent except Antarctica. Bees are usually associated with pollination and producing honey and beeswax.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not native to the US. They were brought over by early colonists to provide honey for food and beeswax for candles. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybees are responsible for pollinating 80% of flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat. Without these hard working and underappreciated insects our food supply would be drastically reduced. As society becomes more aware of the importance of honeybees in our back yard ecology, bee keeping is becoming more common and is now allowed in many urban and suburban areas.
If you are at all interested in the fascinating world of honeybees I would suggest one of the most interesting books I've read on the topic; Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley. Dr. Seeley is an entomologist at Cornell University with over 30 years of experience working with and studying Honeybees.
Honeybee Democracy is not an all-encompassing book on bees; it focuses on how honeybees decide when and where to move to a new hive each spring/early summer. Along with many people, I always thought the queen ruled the hive and would somehow decide when it was time to move part of the colony to a new hive. This mistaken view goes back as far as Aristotle (who actually thought there was a king ruling the hive). In truth the queen is an egg producer and has no role in the decision.
Honeybees make decisions collectively and democratically, hence Seeley's title Honeybee Democracy. Seeley's book shows us that there is much we can learn from these incredible insects when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. While reading the book I kept thinking that our political system could learn a lot from the methods of honeybees. These tiny insects utilize collective fact finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. Who knew? It's absolutely fascinating. After reading Honeybee Democracy I will never look at a honeybee in the same way again. They are truly amazing and complex creatures with an organized society that has been successful for thousands of years.
WNY is very lucky to have the opportunity to hear Dr. Seeley in person at the Honeybee Festival, Saturday, April 27th at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens. The Festival will take place from 10 Am 2 PM in the Administration Bldg. at the Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park, Buffalo.
If you want to learn the entire buzz about bees from Dr. Seeley or if you are considering starting your own backyard beehives, you should go to the festival and beecome more knowledgeable.
Lyn Chimera, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener