We will struggle
to survive ‘our time’, the Anthroprocene, the age of humans. We find it difficult to accept that we must create a “safe operating space” and acknowledge that our existence depends on maintaining a harmonious equilibrium between us – the dominant tenant – and all other inhabitants of this blue planet, from the largest to the smallest.
A typical domestic bee colony consists of ten thousand to fifty thousand individual worker bees carrying out myriad intricate individual and collective tasks. The life of a single worker bee – a mere 21 days in summer– is totally supported by and dedicated to the survival of the super-organism that is the swarm. A single bee cannot exist outside its community, the swarm.
that bees, in their present form have been around for longer than 65 million years – much longer than us – and their pollination activities have helped shape the benign and vastly complex ecology of flowering plants that sustains much of the animal kingdom including seven billion voracious and wasteful humans…
of the bee are many and extraordinary. It can recognise the human face, count up to four and possesses a remarkable capacity for memory and complex communication, the most astonishing of which is the dance.
The dance of the bee
is a set of mathematically precise body movements combined into dances. Using this dance language – performed in the darkness of the hive – an individual worker bee creates a map and flight instructions to lead fellow workers to a flowering plant which may be several kilometres away.
The domestic relationship
between the honey bee Apis Mellifera and humans, Homo Sapiens is over 5000 years old and has been mutually beneficial despite occasional misunderstandings. The bee gained shelter and protection from the worst marauders in exchange for honey and wax. The pollination of flowering plants by bees has enabled us to cultivate a cornucopia of edible plants..
the Anthroprocene started with the industrial revolution and the burning of coal. The human population exploded, accompanied by an ever increasing demand for fossil fuel energy, food and bio-material. Huge tracts of temperate forest, grassland and wilderness have been destroyed and replaced by industrial-scale single crop cultivation. High yields are achieved using artificial fertilisers, genetic modification and an armory of highly toxic pesticides and herbicides. Pollination of vast mono-cultures is achieved by huge numbers of bees, whose sole purpose is to transport pollen from one plant to the next identical plant.
It is calculated
that about one third of the food we consume requires bee pollination. Our very existence is increasingly dependent on the health of this remarkable little creature. Apis Mellifera is now endangered: artificial breeding has led to a diminished gene pool; indiscriminate use of antibiotics has reduced resistance to infection. Lack of genetic flexibility, combined with neurotoxic pesticides and exotic parasites – spread by globalization – have delivered mass death. There is Colony Collapse Disorder (varyingly called Spring dwindle, May disease, Autumn disease etc), affecting hundreds of thousands domestic and wild bee colonies throughout Europe and the US.
What can we do?
We need to be in awe of our friend and companion, the honey bee. We need to develop empathy and understanding which will lead to meaningful action. We need to protect the our planet from the consequences of our blind greed and must learn that we, the dominant species will only have a future when other living things have a future. If we do not learn this lesson quickly, Gaia will casually sweep us into the fossil record and give our place to another species.