In the name of GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
There is no other god beside GOD

The Bee


bee pollinating flower

There are at least 20,000 species of bees. The best known and most carefully studied is the honey bee. This is because we like the honey. There are prehistoric cave paintings, 8,000 to 15,000 years old, which depict people robbing bee hives. Beekeeping seems to have begun in ancient Egypt, perhaps 2400 BC. It flourished as an industry throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.

Aristotle was the first to seriously study and record the behavior of bees, although many of his theories seem laughable today. He concluded that bee larvae came from olive blossoms; he believed the honey was gathered directly from the flowers; and he strongly asserted that bee colonies had to be presided over by a male, not a female. He couldn’t accept that a female creature would be armed with a stinger. It was over 1800 years later that the “king” bee theory was challenged and finally proven false. Modern studies of honey bees are broad based and wide spread and have led to significant understanding of this industrious, efficient, fascinating little creature.

In the Quran there is a chapter entitled “The Bee.” Within the chapter, two verses cover the essence of the honeybee: And your Lord inspired the bee: build homes in mountains and trees, and in (the hives) they build for you. Then eat from all the fruits, following the design of your Lord, precisely. From their bellies comes a drink of different colors, wherein there is healing for the people. This should be (sufficient) proof for people who reflect. (16:68-9) So it’s God’s inspiration to build the hives, to eat from the fruits, and to create the honey. It’s God’s inspiration and overall design. Bees appeared perhaps 100 million years ago, coinciding with the appearance of the first true flowering plants. In God’s beautiful system, the flowers and the bees are dependent on each other. The color and smell of the flower is not for man, although we can and should enjoy it. It’s to attract the bees to insure the flower’s survival. And if the flower didn’t produce nectar and pollen, the bee wouldn’t survive.

THE HIVE

Within a honeybee hive, there are three types of bees—queen, worker and drone. There is a single queen bee. Her only job is to lay eggs. She lacks the glands to make wax and the tongue to gather nectar. She is fed, groomed, and defended to the death. She has no maternal instinct—she only lays the eggs; they’re cared for by the workers.

There are 40,000 to 80,000 workers in a hive, all female. To have that many creatures in such a small space, there must be great organization, a clear division of labor. Indeed there is. It’s amazingly precise and straightforward, and remarkably complex. How is it that all 50 or 60 thousand insects understand their role and perform their jobs without complaint or confusion? It’s God’s extraordinary design.

The bee’s life progresses from one job to another. The first half of its adult life, about three honeycomb / hiveweeks, the workers are “house bees” confined to the hive. This is because only the young bees contain the glands that secrete “royal jelly,” the food fed to the larvae, and the glands that secrete wax for building cells in the comb. The first few days they work clean-up, keeping the hive free of dirt and debris. Then they are promoted to feeding the larvae—a big job as each larva must be attended about 1300 times a day. At about ten days old, they move on to receiving food from the gatherers and storing it in the combs. They also work on expanding and repairing the combs and tending the queen. Then they begin to act as guards at the entrance and make short exploratory flights outside. At about three weeks old, they begin gathering food. The rest of their lives, just a few weeks, is spent hauling loads of food as heavy as themselves from dawn to dusk.

The house bees have a wonderful instinctive sense in caring for the eggs. It’s actually these workers who will decide when it’s time to make new queens. This is done primarily through feeding. The future queens are given a larger proportion of the royal jelly so they develop differently and more quickly. When they begin to emerge after about 16 days, the first new queen to hatch will sting all the other queen eggs to kill them, or two emerging simultaneously may fight to the death.

There cannot be two queens in a hive, so five to ten days later, on pure instinct, the new queen flies out. The male bees, the drones, chase her, and perhaps five will catch her and mate with her in the air. Then they fall dead. Drones live only a few months anyway, and their only job is to mate with a queen. Once this is accomplished, the workers will refuse to feed the drones, who are incapable of gathering their own food. And the workers may not allow them into the hive. So they will starve or freeze once their job is done.

Meanwhile, the queen who has been mated will retain the genital organs from the drones to produce millions of sperm to last the rest of her life, maybe 5 or 6 years, and she will lay up to 2000 eggs a day. The new queen returns to the hive. If the old queen in the hive is too old, she may be allowed to stay until she dies. Otherwise, the old queen will fly away leading a swarm of workers to establish a new hive. Scientists have no idea who decides which workers will go and which will stay. It’s done instinctively. Perhaps half the bees will accompany the departing queen. They must find a new safe place for their nest before cold weather sets in. It’s risky, and many swarms die before establishing a new hive.

THE DANCE

The most remarkable aspect of honey bees is their gathering nectar and pollen and processing honey. It takes honey bee workers approximately 10 million foraging trips to make a single pound of honey. Hive members may visit more than four million flowers a day. They work very hard and their life expectancy is very short. Many simply die from exhaustion, their final load just too much to bear back to the hive. They don’t complain, although occasionally one seems wise enough to take a short vacation. She will choose to stay in the hive and spend the time fanning the honey; this conserves energy so she can live longer to forage.

How do these little tiny critters, only an inch or two long, in this great big world, find the field of flowers that have the nectar and pollen they need, without expending too much energy in the search? It’s an amazing, inherent, beautiful process. It’s been much studied over the last 100 years; still we cannot understand how it’s done. We can only admire the intricacy and precision. I go back to God’s word in the Quran, revealed 1400 years ago: Then eat from all the fruits, following the design of your Lord, precisely. I know that it’s God who teaches them this well-defined, instinctive behavior we call the “dance.”

This dance is a language and it’s truly a wonder of nature. First the scouts go out to search for the best area to forage. Imagine if all 50 or 60 thousand worker bees went out all at once, flying helter-skelter over the countryside. All that wasted energy! So a few scouts check out the terrain. They may go five miles from the hive, although usually they find food within a mile or so. Still, that’s a vast distance for such a little critter, and it changes rapidly. Flowers may only be out for a day or two; then the scouts will have to find new feeding grounds.

When she finds a good area, she fills up on nectar and returns to the hive. Now, if it was a really good spot, she will want others to know about it. She actually has to make a decision whether to “dance” and advertise this location or listen to other scouts and perhaps try somewhere else. Let’s say the feeding was good. She wants to entice others to head out there right away. She begins a complicated, yet easy to understand, set of movements that tell onlookers what direction, how far away and even how good the food is. Humans, after studying bees for a while, can decipher the language and can go and find the area. Of course, it will generally take them 20 minutes or so, while the bees get it in a minute or less.

If the food source is less than 80 feet away, the bee performs a round dance—walking excitedly in a circle; more than 300 feet, it’s a “waggle” dance—walking the shape of a figure-8 with a wiggly line in the center. The wiggles tell the exact distance and direction. This is done using the position of the sun, and it even takes into account the sun’s movement from the time the bee originally located the source.

Amazingly, this isn’t the end of it. These tiny little “lower” animals now begin to make a series of decisions that will impact the health of the hive, and it’s a constant decision-making process. The scout has her own opinion of the quality of the product she brought back and this may be reinforced by the house bees who take the nectar from her. Or they may show less enthusiasm. With these two criteria she decides whether to dance. And if she dances, the crowd around her must decide whether or not to follow her advice. Then she must further decide whether to return to the same spot she just left or listen to another scout’s dance and try a new place.
In addition to dancing for food, bees must also find water. This is only critical on really hot days, during which scouts will dance to advertise water sources rather than flowers, and thousands of bees will follow their directions. The water is distributed over the cells of the comb and bees fan it to cool the whole hive. In fact, the ability to cool the entire area is remarkable. A colony kept on a lava field where the outside temperature was over 130 degrees maintained a comfortable inside temperature in the low 90’s.

Dance is also used when a swarm is looking for a new location. Again, it would be counter-productive for the entire swarm to fly back and forth searching. So the queen and most of the swarm land on a tree and the scouts go looking. They come back and dance their findings. At first, each is convinced she has found the perfect spot, but as they listen to one another, they will eventually come to a consensus, and the queen will head off for the new home.

HONEY

honeyOnly bees make honey. Artificial attempts have fallen far short. In a special section of the bee’s stomach, digestion of the nectar begins and an enzyme is added. Back at the hive, the foragers pass this nectar off to unloaders, who then spend up to 20 minutes working this nectar in their mouths, opening and closing to expose it to air. Then they regurgitate it into cells, where it’s left to thicken. When it’s the proper consistency—“following the design of your Lord precisely”—the cell is sealed with wax. Created is a delicious food with healing properties. “From their bellies comes a drink of different colors, wherein there is healing for the people.” (16:69)

Bees are very important to man—not just for the honey and wax, but also in pollinating plants. Crops such as alfalfa and clover, and fruit trees, such as the apple, cherry and peach, will not produce abundantly without bees. What a remarkable system. God made the apple and cherry blossoms bright-colored and fragrant to attract bees to maintain the species, but what a delight for us. A springtime feast for our eyes and nose. Then we get to enjoy the honey that, in a splendid and intricate system, the bees produce from the contents of these beautiful flowers. Again, I remind myself to be appreciative.


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