Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

HONEY BEES
I have been a beekeeper for more years than I care to remember. In a very small way I suppose I am a farmer. I have domesticated, to a degree, a wild creature and as a real farmer cares for sheep, cows, chicken and goats, I care for my bees. Whilst I do gather honey and beeswax, my main interest has always been the bees themselves and how a hive with forty-thousand bees or more manages to function.

About a hundred million years ago, give or take ten million, a glob of sap oozed out of a tree, rolled down the tree trunk and encased a bee.

Over the eons the amber and the bee became fossilised and it was found only a few years ago in Myanmar.

Reports suggest it is remarkably similar to todays honey bee. In other words it had evolved to something very close to the bees that fill my hives. Just what the social structure was we have no way of knowing but it must have been well on the way to the beehive of today.

We are told that fifty million or so years after our bee was immortalised, our ancestor was still only a rat like creature scurrying about the forest floor.

The comparison between how the hive works and human society is full of similarities
and paradoxes. The world of Mellifera (the honey bee) is made of hundreds of thousands of individual hives. The world of homo sapiens (you and me) is also made up of many, many races, groups, countries, and societies. We may think of the Queen bee as the leader of the hive but she is in fact simple the egg laying bee, just one member of the hive along with workers and drones.

Humans tend to look for and recognise leaders. Kings, queens, emperors, dictators, prime ministers, presidents and even Gods. However, I question if these human leaders really lead. They are surrounded by workers and officials and civil servants who, it appears to me, make the collective decisions.

I look at the beehive and wonder who and how are the decisions made to swarm when the hive becomes overcrowded? Where are the scientist bees who produce the magnificent and efficient wax comb in which eggs are laid and honey stored? Where is the ‘Home secretary’ who, when the drones have performed their only function of fertilising queens, decides they should be cast out of the hive to starve to death?

I come to the conclusion that there is some form of collective intelligence where no individual decides. To make a human comparison take the American space programme. There may be a supremo at NASA but is he not some sort of glorified egg layer? The launching of rocket to land on a distant planet is the result of a kind collective intelligence. The task of putting a man of the moon is the work of countless homo sapiens (alive and dead).


Chemists, metallurgists, mathematicians and countless others who have provided skills and knowledge to perform this almost miraculous operation. There cannot be one person who knows it all. Each member of the team must rely on others to provide the millions of bits of knowledge and expertise to make a successful launch.

The greatest differences between the bees and us are individuality and creativity. In the hive the workers take on different tasks, Nursemaids, house keepers, forager etc but I doubt if the bees know one another as individuals. The same with creativity. To maintain the state of the hive there can be no room for new ideas or anything other than the status quo.

Humans, on the other hand create works of art, constantly invent new things. This means we live in a state which we tend to call progress. As a couple of geriatrics, Arthur and I have difficulty in assessing progress. In pure material terms things have never been better, As far as quality of life is concerned we are not quite so sure. The speed of change bewilders us. Communication is one such change. In our young days, telephones were for the rich and the thought of being able to actually see the person you were speaking to was the stuff of science fiction. Now the world is full of ‘Twitter’ (What an apt name!), ‘Face book’, smart phones, ‘Skype, and texting.

There is no way of slowing down the speed at which things change, in fact from the perspective of age it gets faster and faster. The question stays with us “Would we prefer. To live the way we do with this constant change or would we prefer the unchanging stability of the beehive?” We come to the conclusion that we would prefer to stay as homo sapiens, how about you?

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