One Saturday morning in September, I was standing in a large, white suit with thousands of honey bees politely buzzing just inches from my face. It was a scene from a nightmare, in which I could almost hear Nicolas Cage screaming, "Not the bees!" But it was real: I'd signed up for this. So it was nice to hear instructor Juan Campos assure me that the bees were just "bumping" us, with no plan of attack.
Almost every weekend, Round Rock Honey offers an introduction to beekeeping class in Copper Canyon, a half hour north of Dallas. Juan packs a lot of information into his class, answering questions from how to know if a hive is healthy to my inane pondering, "do bees poop?"
Here's what I learned.
Boy bees are lazy outcasts The male drones are relegated to the hive, where they are worthless beyond fertilization. They can't sting, protect or make honey. They are at the queen's beck and call and when she tires of them, she orders her guard bees kick them out of the hive. All the bees you encounter in your backyard or at the park are lady bees.
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Humans have the "wobble," honey bees have the "waggle" While you and your friends are pointlessly twerking at clubs, the honey bees are using their dance moves to communicate the distance to nearest food supply. Every step in the waggle dance signals cues to the other bees. Waggle up, food's to the east. Waggle down, food's to the west. It took years for the bee community to believe Novel laureate Karl von Frisch about the bee dance, but that might've been cause he was always singing, "Back it up, drop it down, get low."
Bees don't poop The trail of orange that a cute little honey bee left behind on my suit after it shook its tail feather was actually its barbed stinger along with most of its digestive tract. Something made the bee believe that this big, white monster (me) was a threat, so it self-sacrificed. This is the first time in my life a bee sting made me feel bad for the bee.
Bees do vomit and it's delicious. Honey is bee vomit. I'm pretty sure Jerry Seinfeld taught me this in Bee Movie, but I relearned this tidbit in time to wrinkle my nose at the tasting portion of the class. But this honey-making process is why local honey can be used as a tasty cure for allergies. Scientists believe it works like a vaccination, putting your body contact with the histamine in a mild form to build immunity.
We need bees more than they need us In August, the cover story of Time magazine was "The Plight of the Honeybee" and it opened with the fact that the honeybee assists with the creation of 1/3 of the typical diet. Almost all of the fruits and vegetables in America require pollination. In fact, at the beginning of the year thousands of honeybees are shipped to California to pollenate almonds, which could not exist without the bees. Juan has worked with bees for decades and he says "beekeeping is a survival skill." At the end of the class, he encouraged all the participants to consider a hive of one's own and after spending two hours with these magnificent creatures I found myself coveting the cute brown hives that Round Rock Honey sells. But I'm not sure my downtown neighbors would share my affection.