let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; bees
are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.”
Bees Love Caffeine, Too
Even the busiest bees need a little pick-me-up in the morning. A study by researchers at the University of Sussex finds that bees love a little caffeine, and prefer nectar that gives them a little extra buzz.
The paper, published in the journal Current Biology tested bees’ preferences for caffeinated nectar and an equal-quality but non-caffeinated alternative. As many as 55 percent of plants have low concentrations of caffeine in their nectar, and previous research has found that caffeinated nectar can increase bees’ memory of a flower’s scent.
When presented with a pair of sugary nectars in the lab, one with caffeine and one without, bees foraged for food more when they ate the caffeinated nectar, and directed their fellow bees to that food source more often. They directed other bees to the caffeinated nectar four times more than when they had eaten non-caffeinated nectar, and would return to the source of caffeine even after that feeder had run dry. After eating caffeinated nectar, they were less likely to seek out other sources of food. In short, they got sort of addicted.
Plants “may be tricking the honey bee by securing loyal and faithful foraging and recruitment behaviors, perhaps without providing the best quality forage,” University of Sussex researcher Margaret Couvillon explains. The bees get tricked into thinking the caffeinated nectar is a higher quality food source than it really is, and aren’t too interested in diversifying their nectar sources.
celebrate the bees
today on world bee day
and every day
“if we die, we’re taking you with us.”
credits: mental floss, shaunacy ferro, entomology today
The bee friend – painting by Hans Thoma
The Custom of Telling the Bees
There was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen them. Failing to do so often resulted in further losses such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying. Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only deaths but all important family matters including births, marriages, and long absences due to journeys. If the bees were not told, all sorts of calamities were thought to happen. This peculiar custom is known as “telling the bees”.
Humans have always had a special connection with bees. In medieval Europe, bees were highly prized for their honey and wax. Honey was used as food, to make mead, and as medicine to treat burns, coughs, and other ailments. Beeswax candles burned brighter, longer, and cleaner than other candles. Bees were often kept at monasteries and manor houses, where they were tended with the greatest respect and considered part of the family or community. It was considered rude to quarrel in front of bees.
The practice of telling the bees may have its origins in Celtic mythology that held that bees were the link between our world and the spirit world. So if you had any message that you wished to pass to someone who was dead, all you had to do was tell the bees and they would pass along the message. Telling the bees was widely reported from all around England, and also from many places across Europe. Eventually, the tradition made its way across the Atlantic and into North America.
The typical way to tell the bees was for the head of the household, or “goodwife of the house” to go out to the hives, knock gently to get the attention of the bees, and then softly murmur the solemn news.
A widow and her son telling the bees of a death in the family.
Painting by Charles Napier Hemy
In case of deaths, the beekeeper also wrapped the top of the hive in black. If there was a wedding in the family, the hives were decorated and cake left outside so that the bees could partake in the festivities. Newlyweds introduced themselves to the bees of the house, otherwise their married life was bound to be miserable.
The intimate relationship between bees and their keepers has led to all sorts of folklore. According to one it was bad luck to buy or sell hives, because when you sell one, you sell your luck with your bees. Instead, bees were bartered or given as gifts. If bees flew into a house, a stranger would soon call. If they rested on a roof, good luck was on its way.
But the relationship between bees and humans goes beyond superstition. It’s a fact, that bees help humans survive. 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the human population rely on bees for pollination. Without them, these plants would cease to exist and with it all animals that eat those plants. This could have a cascading effect that would ripple up the food chain. Losing a beehive is much worse than losing a supply of honey. The consequences are life threatening. The act of telling the bees emphasizes this deep connection humans share with the insect.
at my daughter’s house
getting ready to take the boys to a movie
i opened the freezer and looked for
something healthy and quick to eat before leaving
i chose what appeared to be
some quinoa/whole oats/ancient grains kind of thing
took off the top and heated it up
when i took my first bite i soon realized
there had been a mistake
on my part
it had a taste and texture that really didn’t register
as anything i had ever eaten before
vaguely familiar, but not so much
far from an ancient grain
and it did not taste good
though perhaps was healthy
i looked back again at the top
this time really looking
and saw that it was lightly labeled ‘bee wax’
no doubt from their hives in the backyard
“and what, socrates, is the food of the soul?
surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul.”
the bees could really use some help. in the last 10 years, a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (ccd) has killed off huge numbers of honeybees around the world. it’s normal for beekeepers to lose 10–15 percent of their hives each winter, but beginning in 2006, beekeepers started reporting losses of 30–90 percent. scientists believe ccd may be caused by a combination of pesticides, parasites, and a decline in wildflowers as more and more land is developed.
this is where seedles come in. each “bomb” contains wildflower seeds packed in compost and brightly colored clay. “planting” them is easy: you just throw them on the ground and wait for the rain, sun, and soil to do their work. the candy-colored seed bombs “practically grow themselves,” says the company’s website.
there are six varieties, one for each region of the country, so bee lovers can be sure to plant native flowers that will thrive in their area.
seedles are the brainchild of ei ei khin and chris burley, a couple who initially hoped they could get people to plant a million flowers. they surpassed that number in 2014. in an email to mental_floss, burley (now the company’s “pollinator-in-chief”) said they’ve since set their sights higher: a billion flowers for the bees.
they are especially concerned about the interdependence between honeybees and our food supply. of 100 major american crops, 70 are pollinated by bees; without them, we might not have apples, almonds, carrots, or avocados. to encourage interest and awareness in the plight of the bees, seedles partners with local food companies to give out free seed bombs. because they’re pretty, simple, nontoxic, and foolproof, the seed bombs make great educational tools.
credits: seedles, mentalfloss, kathy horowitz
bee whisperer’s mom,
on our late summer walk
by the river.
my grandson/ her son,
on our early summer trip
by the lake.
genetics, gentle compassion, curiosity and nature at play.
“it is in our genes to understand the universe if we can,
to keep trying even if we cannot,
and to be enchanted by the act of learning all the way.”
― lewis thomas