Bees produce a number of health-giving substances from honey, propolis to pollen, but the way they organize could be their greatest gift of all. A bee colony works together as a super-organism. They have a coordinated response to external stimuli, similar to the human brain. The ways bees “speak” to each other can even be compared to how neurons in the brain interact with each other.
Bees work together and are considered social insects, like ants or termites. True social insects, called eusocial insects by entomologists, comprise 75 percent of the world’s insect biomass. A typical honeybee colony can have anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 bees, and sometimes more. They each have a specific focus as a Worker, Drone or Queen. They have a division of labor and the majority of the bees are female. Drones are the only males.
They have specific roles but if there is a job to be done any available bee will do it. They are not in competition. Honeybees have a sort of “dance” to alert each other to where the best honey is, and they’ll even dance to signal other bees that they need help or grooming.
Share Your Gifts
Bee honey has long been known to have health benefits. Often used as a cough suppressant, honey is high in antioxidants. It’s also been used as a topical treatment to heal wounds and burns since ancient Egypt. But honey is only one piece of the healing medicines created by bees.
Propolis is a resinous mixture that honeybees produce by combining their own saliva and beeswax with exuded (oozing) substances collected from tree buds and sap flows, or other botanical sources. Bees use propolis to seal any small cracks or gaps in their hive. This sticky substance also wards off fungal infections and is considered anti-viral. Used in folk medicines for years, propolis possesses anti-microbial, antioxidative, anti-ulcer and anti-tumor activities.
Bee pollen is a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax, and bee secretions. According to Healthline*, “Bee pollen has gained traction in the health community because it’s loaded with nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, lips and over 250 active substances. In fact, the Federal Ministry of Health in Germany recognizes bee pollen as a medicine.”
Royal jelly is a milky secretion produced by worker beers. It’s used to nourish larvae as well as adult Queen Bees. Though there is yet to be good scientific evidence, royal jelly is said to be helpful with menopause symptoms, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), obesity and other conditions.
According to researchers from the University of Sheffield , super-organisms such as a bee colony may obey the same laws as the human brain when making collective decisions. They have also found that these parallels might better help us understand how the human brain works.
Collective decisions in bee colonies are made in the interest of the whole. For example, when the hive splits and a Queen bee leaves the colony to create a new one, she takes half the worker bees with her. This swarm follows and when she lands they create a ball of bees around her. The closest bees cling to whatever the Queen landed on – often a tree branch –and the rest of the bees hold onto each other, even in high winds.
Researchers at Harvard University studied the swarm phenomenon of bees, noting they moved toward the place of most stress, spread out wider and were a flatter swarm. This allowed more bees to take on the stress of holding the hive together. Each individual bee could not see the swarm as a whole, but they knew instinctively what to do to steady the group.
Care for Others
Honeybees exhibit altruism when working together to protect their hive. In the previous example, the bees at the bottom actually had to work harder to get to the top to help stabilize the group.
When the Nature Physics Journal published a study on swarm research, “Collective mechanical adaption of honeybee swarms,” they said: “Together, our findings highlight how a super-organismal structure responds to dynamic loading by actively changing its morphology to improve the collective stability of the cluster at the expense of increasing the average mechanical burden of an individual.” What they mean is individual bees took on more burden in order to protect the group.
There are many advantages of working together to protect the group. Social insects can divide the chores, help each other find food and resources, build a shelter faster, and out compete less social insects for food and territory.
We Are All Connected
In what is now Turkey, evidence was found of human links with the honeybee 9,000 years ago. Flash forward to 2010, and honeybees and other pollinators contributed to the pollination of $19 billion worth of crops in the United States alone. They help pollinate one third of everything we eat.
Despite their altruism and teamwork, cooperation and communication, the life of a bee is to work their assigned job, not engage in individual behavior. So can humans enjoy individual ways of living while also working together and recognizing the importance of taking care of the collective? We are, after all, a large human colony, interconnected and reliant on each other for the health of the whole.
As Thomas Seeley, author & sociobiologist explains: “The 1.5 kilograms of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that, even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes a first-rate collective.”
Like a bee, we can’t necessarily see the whole picture, but we instinctively know what will help our species. We know how to come together for the good of all, to express altruism. We are not as far from honeybees as we might think and when we slow down enough to just be, to remember our connection in the cosmic hive, the honey is sweeter for us all.
Bloom Post is a freelance writer, ceremonialist, teacher, and author of the books Shaman’s Toolbox: Practical Tools for Powerful Transformation and Plant Spirit Totems. For more information: www.BloomPost.com