Friday, November 09, 2007

Bees and not bees

One of my beefs is that people tend to call any flying, buzzing thing a 'bee.' So, in addition to bees, they call wasps, yellow jackets, and possibly even flies, bees. It's not so much what they call these insects that bother me, however, it's the fact that they treat them all the same, and that is their tendency to "swat to kill."

If you didn't already know about the wonderful qualities, and quirky life-habits, of bees, the NY Times article below will enlighten you. And if you do know the difference between bees, wasps, and yellow jackets, then you should also know that you are dooming your food future by killing bees indiscriminantly with, say, yellow jackets. Nectar for thought, isn't it?


November 9, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
The Real Life of Bees

The walking, talking, sneaker-wearing honeybees in Jerry Seinfeld’s animated film certainly are cute. But if a beekeeper like me had been in the director’s chair, “Bee Movie” would have looked quite a bit different.

In Hollywood’s version, there are more than three times the number of male roles than female ones, but a cartoon of my own hive would have thousands of leading ladies and only a handful of male extras.

The nurses that tend the young and the workers that forage for pollen; the guards that keep predators like skunks away and the undertaker bees that unceremoniously haul out the dead: they’re all female. And whereas the movie’s protagonist is repeatedly told he must choose just one job and stick with it, my honeybees rotate through all of the available duties.

“Bee Movie” makes only passing mention of the queen. But she’s the life of the hive, too busy producing perhaps a million eggs during her two-to-three-year existence even to feed herself (she has attendants for that). Were my Russian queen drawn for the big screen (think Natasha from “Rocky & Bullwinkle”), she would make quick work of the macho pollen jocks in “Bee Movie.”

That’s because non-animated drones don’t collect pollen, or make beeswax, or even have stingers. If Mr. Seinfeld wanted realism (and an R rating), his male bees would be sex workers who do little more than mate with the queen — after which their genitals snap off. Worse: when winter comes, worker bees shove the freeloading males out into the cold. If drones are required in the spring, the queen will simply make more of them.

Apiarists haven’t had much reason to laugh this year, because bees have been ravaged by colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady that’s caused some beekeepers to lose 90 percent of their hives.

But one of every three or four bites of food we eat is thanks to bees; we truck bees many miles to pollinate about 90 different crops, from apples and oranges to almonds and blueberries, a punishing circuit that overtaxes the few colonies left. Of course, in “Bee Movie,” pollen jocks merely buzz past and barren landscapes bloom instantaneously into Technicolor glory.

But all these apiarian inaccuracies will be easy to forgive if wise-cracking animated honeybees finally get people to care about the rapidly disappearing real thing.

Susan Brackney is the author of “The Insatiable Gardener’s Guide.”

"To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge." ~ Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881)