Bees have been around for the past 80 million years so there must be a few things we can learn from them. There are around 20,000 species of the humble bee and seven that are honey bees (with 44 sub species).
Their role is so important that Albert Einstein said, “Mankind will not survive the honeybee’s disappearance for more than five years .”
So what can these amazing creatures teach us?
Honey bees and bumblebees live socially, led by a queen and serviced by male drones and female worker bees. They work as a collective and even when there are 50,000 workers or more the group become as one. The colony achieves success this way as, rather than by individuals working alone, they all work for the common good of the colony. According to Time magazine, the word ‘bee’ has been used as far back as the 1700’s to describe a meeting of people who work together with purpose, hence the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Honey bees live within their means and are resourceful. Believe it or not, bees have five eyes and are constantly on the lookout for food and never miss out on an opportunity to forage and gather. Even when there is abundance they store their lovely nectar anywhere they can in the hive, saving it for leaner times. They use what they have to gather and store providing a constant food supply, not just for them, but also by making sure they are providing for their unborn bees. By planning ahead, they never get caught out.
The human brain works in a similar way to a swarm of bees according to the Mullenlowe Group on ways to work smarter. There are 1.5 kgs of bees in a honeybee swarm and the same amount of neurons in the human brain. The decision-making process involves working as a whole to make the right choices. This integration or what they call ‘swarm intelligence’ is something managers or company owners could learn from. Tap into the full potential of your swarm (team, department, company) and see what can be achieved!
Have a vision and set yourself goals and get fit in the process. The Oxford English Dictionary links the phrase ‘make a bee line’ to the focused, driven line a bee is “supposed instinctively to take in returning to its hive.” Bees can also fly as high as Mount Everest. According to a study, called Biology Letters by Dillon and Dudley at the University of California, Berkeley, bumblebees adapt to high altitudes and the thin air not by beating their wings faster, but by swinging their wings through a wider arc, bring their wings closer up towards their nose, and farther back towards the tip of their abdomen. This keeps them up in the air. This is even more extraordinary as there isn’t any need to fly to such high altitudes as there aren’t any flowers at the top of Everest. But what we have learned is these small little creatures have built their fitness and have the wing power to use this flight capacity and transport nectar and pollen twice their body weight. Their capacity for flight with little oxygen also means they have amazing metabolic rates, far higher than humans.
Bees are social creatures and they use vibrations and release pheromones to communicate clearly across their colony. They do a ‘waggle dance’ across the honeycomb showing where the strong flows of pollen and nectar are and when foraging they leave a chemical, like a ‘post it’ note, letting other bees know if a flower has recently been plundered. They can only tell the truth as they know it, they are honest beings. Imagine that? They never deceive each other.
Highly advanced engineering principles are displayed by bees in the hives. Mathematicians and engineers have long pondered the construction of their honeycomb structures. They have questioned how the hive functions and how bees are so incredibly resilient and efficient. Bees chose hexagons as the most efficient shape for food storage. Is it possible they know more than humans about geometry and longevity?
When was the last time you noticed a bee buzzing around a flower or plant? When you do it’s a good sign your environment is healthy. We love to walk in a garden or sit and picnic in a park and what’s good for the bee is also good for us. We share the same need for green open spaces where the air and water is clean. The Bee Cause Project was setup in the United States where observational hives were placed in schools with the aim to help people, particularly younger ones, reconnect with nature and understand their eco-system. The project’s director, Tami Enright, says “We have a goal of helping kids get connected with nature again. And we’re using the honey bees to do that.”
From poets to philosophers bees have been used as inspiration for their musings. We all know the term ‘busy bee’ as a reference to bees being industrious. This originates back to the 16th Century when the English poet, Isaac Watts in 1715 wrote, “How doth the little busy bee…Improve each shining hour…And gather honey all the day… From every opening flower.” Pliny, a Roman author, referred to honey as “the sweat of the heavens and the saliva of the stars”. The saying a bee in your bonnet comes from a 1553 Scottish translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, “hede full of beis.” Conjuring up the state of mind if you were to find a bee buzzing around inside your hat. It means to be preoccupied by an idea, agitated and determined to get that idea out and your point of view across.
In the past 100 years bee’s natural habitat and diet has become contaminated by man-made substances and chemicals. According to Friends of the Earth, 35 UK bees’ species are under threat of extinction, and all species face serious threats. Intensive farming practices, pollution, pesticides, loss of habitat and climate change all need to be considered. Scientists have found exposure to pesticides can affect honey bees ability to navigate and to reproduce. Neonicotinoids are particularly harmful to bee’s survival when it comes to feeding, homing, foraging and reproducing. The things that affect the decline of bees can affect us too. The good news from the UK is Environment Secretary Michael Gove has agreed to offer tougher restrictions on the use of neonics and the European Union voted on the 27th April for a total ban of their use on the land apart from inside greenhouses to take affect by the end of 2018.
It seems spending time with bees can benefit us in a variety of ways. In Vancouver, there is Hives for Humanity a non for profit that creates a supportive network. They connect people to nature, to community and to themselves, building confidence, relaxation and coping strategies and they do it through the bees. An ex-war veteran in the US, after realising beekeeping helped him with his post-traumatic stress disorder, established Bees for Vets, with the aim of raising money for other veterans to buy their own equipment and to teach them how to bee keep and heal through the process.
Who knew there was so much to learn from bees about productivity, resilience, collective wisdom and nature’s ability to give? So next time you see one of those beautiful creatures dancing around a flower or when you are dipping into a delicious jar of raw honey give a thought to those busy bees working tirelessly to produce something so natural and good for us.
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