Some Honey Bee Lore

Honey bees have been closely associated with human beings for a long time. More than 9000 years ago, in a rock shelter in the mountains of eastern Spain, an early artist recorded the exploits of a brave individual surrounded by bees reaching inside a cavity to steal honey. Robbing honey from the nests of wild bees is still practiced by some Asian cultures. The oldest alcoholic beverage, mead, a drink made from fermented honey and water has been found in an Iron Age tomb in Scotland.

Honey bees appear in the temple and tomb art of Egypt as far back as 2400 B.C. The honey bee was the symbol of Lower Egypt. In the solar cult of Ra, the tears of Ra were honey bees.

Bee-keeping shows up in Greek mythology. Aristaeus, a keeper of bees who lost his hives to disease, compelled Proteus, a shape-changer who was also the wise god of the sea, to tell him how to avoid such a loss in the future. More diseases have been described for honey bees than any other insects. The earliest written descriptions were made by Aristotle around 325 B.C.

The honey bee, a sacred symbol of Artemis, was an important design on Ephesian coins for almost 6 centuries. (Ephesus was the center of worship of Artemis.)

After his death in 323 B.C., Alexander the Great was embalmed in a coffin filled with honey.

Over the centuries, bees have been used many times as weapons of war. In the thirteen century, residents of the Aegean island of Astipalaia hurled beehives onto pirates storming the castle gates. During W.W. I, Belgians trapped in an apiary used bees against the Germans.

Honey, too, has been used as a weapon. Certain members of the heath family produce grayanotoxins, chemicals that act as breathing inhibitors and hypnotics. Honey from these plants is referred to as toxic or ``mad '' honey. Three squadrons of Pompey's Roman troops were slain while under the influence of toxic honey provided by local tribesmen. In small amounts, toxic honey has been used in alcohol, as an additive to increase its punch, and in medicine.

Honey bees are not native to the Americas, Australia or New Zealand. Settlers had established colonies in Virginia by 1622, but California had to wait until the 1850s. Because of their close connection with the advancing colonists, Native Americans referred to honey bees as the ``white man's flies''.

Today, honey bees perform a vital role in agribusiness, pollinating many of our food crops. The honey and wax produced are significant. According to May Berenbaum in her book ``Bugs in the System'', it takes 130000 loads of nectar or about 10 million flower visits to produce one kilogram of honey (about 2.2 pounds).

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Ron Lyons (volunteer 1990-1999)
Chula Vista Nature Center, 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910-1201