Return of the Bees

May 1st, 2009
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v7-5-Our IslandsAmid the crying and the gnashing of teeth among the people on this island that still have something to lose, the year ended in a tiny harmonious note. That note is the humming of thousand of bees as they go about the business of making honey, oblivious to all but their instinctual duties.

Little they know of the greatest financial crisis the island has faced in the last fifty years. It was only a few months ago that I reported the lack of these tiny industrious insects on this island but all that has changed now. A few persons on the island including Bill O’Driscoll and Cathy & Jim Springer were responsible for contacting pastor Perry Elwin on Roatan and were able to acquire three or four queens and some workers.

I have reasons to believe that this strain of bees is the same one carried from here to Roatan by the good pastor just after the Hurricane Mitch. This is good because this strain is much less aggressive than the possibly africanized strains available on the mainland. Bees are believed to have been on this earth for about 100 millions years but the first documented (cave paintings) instance of man interactions with bees is about six to eight thousand years. It is known that the Greeks were keeping bee hives over three thousand years ago.

The honeybee as we know it came to the Americas with the Europeans and by the late sixteen hundreds, bees were widespread along the East Coast of the United States and eventually moved to other areas as the pioneers pushed further into the country. The American Indians wondered about the sanity of the white men who carried around their own insects and called the honeybee “White man flies.”

A bee hive is composed of one queen, a few hundred drones, and from twenty to forty thousand workers. The queen has some control of the hive through the use of pheromones that stimulates behavior but this is mostly to announce her presence and her health to workers to discourage the raising of other queens. Bees swarm in order to create new colonies. During a prime swarm the old queen leaves the hive with a large group of worker bees. As soon as the swarm is settled in the new hive the workers raise a new queen but sometimes there will already be a replacement virgin queen in the swarm. In a healthy working hive when the old queen dies or becomes infertile a supersedure occurs and the new queen replaces the old one in the hive.

The new virgin queen fills the air with her pheromones and takes off on her mating flight; she must attract as many drones as possible. She can produce eggs without mating but these unfertilized eggs only produce drones. To produce workers and queens she must mate with the drones and store enough sperm to last her a lifetime: about two years. If the queen becomes infertile she will be killed by the workers and replaced. On some occasions there can be two queens in a hive and the mother and daughter exist together for a while.

All the workers are females and their particular job is determined more by their age than by anything else, the last job they have is the gathering of pollen and nectar and they literally work themselves to death at it. Every worker bee has a determined job at a determined age and these jobs range from tending the young, grooming and cleaning the queen to defending the hive and gathering pollen and nectar. The older bees can go back to some previous jobs within the hive whenever it is deemed necessary. Man and his technology have been able to synthesize many things made by nature, but honey is not one of those things. aWith the on-site help of David Hyde and the expert advice of pastor Perry Elwin, we hope this new venture in apiculture turn out to be a resounding success. [/private]

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