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Bees have so much to teach us




About DJC

The older I get, the less I know and the more inquisitive I get.

Unfortunately, despite a lifelong search, most of the answers elude me. That said, I love to ask the questions and fuel the debates that will ultimately lead us all to a better understanding of the big issues in life, the universe and everything.

They say that we spend 98% of our lives in our head. I for one would like to use that time as effectively as possible.


When it comes to success and happiness, bees can teach us a lot, writes honey farmer John Carlson.

Humans often consider themselves the centre of the universe. And while we generally consider our species to be highly successful, some even think we are created in God's image.

Community is the key to the bees' success, writes John Carlson.

Community is the key to the bees' success, writes John Carlson. Pic: iStock

However, these are not views that I share.

We often consider the dinosaurs - and the various species there-of - as unsuccessful, yet they roamed this planet for 150 million years. Mankind has only existed in any form for a few hundred thousand years and as a homosapien for perhaps 100 thousand years.

The dinosaurs were likely killed off by meteors from space, while humans will likely kill themselves off through man-made climate change or nuclear war. Dinosaurs left the planet much as they found it, while human have destroyed much of it - despite having been here for just 10% of the time dinosaurs were.

So where have we gone wrong?

The answer may best be found in one of the planets most successful species – bees.

Bees have been producing honey for more than 100 million years, making them one of the oldest species on the planet. They have survived all kinds of climate changes and all manner of crises.

Today, there are seven species and some 44 sub-species of honey bee and, while many of them are currently threatened by the Veroa mite, bees are, without question, one of the most successful animals to live on this planet.

Far from damaging the earth, they are central to its very nature – and the existence of many other species, including humans.

Some 80% of all crops consumed by humans require bees to facilitate pollination.

One of the many features that make bees successful is their sense of a community. As a beekeeper, I can tell you that a hive is more like a single organism that a colony of 50,000 individuals. They all work together for the good of the community. They support each other and toil with each other for their mutual benefit. They all have a role to play in ensuring the survival of the community - and they conduct that role without failing.

Working hard, a single honey bee will produce less than a teaspoon of honey in its eight-week life – ensuring that as a team they produce enough to feed the whole community, leaving enough over to be stolen by greedy humans, who rarely value it as much as they do.

We would not think twice about wasting a teaspoon of honey. For a bee, that represents their life’s work. We have commoditised what for bees is the essential ingredient for survival.

Bees work together to build their hive, produce the food the community needs, defend that community and keep the hive at the temperature required for a comfortable, collective existence. They survive because they are a community. And they do all of this while enhancing their environment – and certainly doing no damage.

To take honey from the hive, most beekeepers first smoke the hive, resulting in all the bees congregating together in the bottom brood box around the queen. It is thought that they do this with a view to protecting the queen.

When the hive is threatened and the beekeeper is all dressed in their white outfit, the danger for the beekeeper is getting stung. When the bee stings, it dies.

It gives its life to defend its hive – its community. How many humans do you know who would do that?

I think it was Dickens who said: "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for a friend." Perhaps he was thinking about bees, because I don't know of many humans who would behave in such a way.

I spend a bit of time with my bees and as far as I can tell, they are very happy. If honey production is anything to go by, they are very happy indeed. In my experience, humans are much less happy.

Is there a lesson here?

Bees are certainly more successful as a species and they appear to be happier than humans. Is this because their hive is one community, with every bee helping to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

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