Bee Pluses And Minuses

We all know that bees live in organized colonies, which have nurses, guards, cleaners, and undertakers – beehives are better staffed than most NHS hospitals. We might not all be aware that they have two stomachs – one is for storing nectar (like a beer belly in the human male, one would guess). They have six legs and five eyes; it is good news for their keepers that they require neither shoes nor spectacles.

You might not have realized this, but the bee is the only insect in the world that makes food that humans can eat. (There is a rumor that Heston Blumenthal once tried to concoct a starter using ladybird poo, but this is unconfirmed.)

The bee has also inspired some of our finest composers. Take, by way of example, Eric Idle and John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, who are responsible for the philosophers’ anthem, Eric the Half-a-Bee: “Half a bee, philosophically,/ Must ipso facto half not be./ But half a bee has got to be/ Vis a vis its entity.”

Here one should also consider that fine work of pathos by the great Matt McGinn, The Big Effen Bee: “He kept bees in the old town of Effen,/ An Effen bee-keeper was he,/ And one day this wee Effen bee-keeper/ Was stung by a big Effen bee.”

There is evidence that bees can be trained to sniff out explosive materials or illegal drugs. This is presumably why you sometimes hear a buzzer going off at airports, boom boom.

Talking of aviation, we learned over the weekend that bees can stop aircraft. The Herald reported yesterday that a flight from Southampton to Dublin had to turn back due to a technical issue: a bee had become lodged in an instrument on the outside of the plane, according to a spokesman for FlyBe, which is now doomed to be known as NoFlyBee. While tiresome, this should be taken in context; a bee trapped in an instrument does a lot less damage than a seagull sucked into an engine.

Let a bee fly in through the kitchen window, and my other half starts as if Freddie Krueger, Michael Myers, and Chucky had turned up on the doorstep; she would face a charging rhino with greater equanimity. I’ve never understood the over-reaction; bees, in my experience, don’t have psychopathic tendencies and rarely attack unprovoked.

Next time, I might mention the possible therapeutic uses of bee venom; they think it might help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, shingles, gout, and hay fever. A tale in the sting, as it were.

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