Honey Matters

May 19, 2017
Show your appreciation for our remaining honey bees by purchasing all natural honey at the Farmers Market this weekend. While the vast majority of the estimated 115,000-125,000 beekeepers in the United States are hobbyists, over a third of our food supply's 350,000 species of plants would not exist without commercial beekeepers. Industrial farms rent colonies that pursue the most abundant sources of nectar as their hives are transported on flatbeds from Florida to pollinate California almonds and cherries in February, Washington apples and pears in March, South Dakota sunflowers and canola in May, Maine blueberries in June, and Pennsylvania pumpkins in July.

Leaves evolved into colorful, scented, pollinating flowers during the Early Cretaceous, prior to the Yucatan impact event that caused the extinction of the ankylosaurs small mammals scurried the earth beneath, kronosauruses modern sharks swam the seas evading, and pterosaurs birds traversed the skies dodging. Meat eating wasps coevolved with flowers into vegetarian honey bees, the only creature that became capable of collecting sweet nectar at their capacity due to their development of fur for greater cross pollination, 60,000 smell receptors to identify hundreds of different flowering scents, and their entire colonies becoming superorganisms. Honey bee hives possess the collective intelligence of its 50,000 brains to develop instinct, pattern recognition, and the ability to adapt based off feedback loops allowing for individual worker bee waggle dances to convey where good nectar halls are, younger bees to chew the nectar into honey, and for their creation of hexagonal honeycombs to maximize storage capacity. Given the Earth itself is four and half billion year old, bees causing flowers to flourish across the globe over the past 145 million years creating our once natural pristine splendor of ladybugs, butterflies, and hummingbirds was a relatively recent phenomenon.

Reproduction is the purpose nature gave life, and millions of years of coevolution resulted in the dependency between the seeds of pollinated flowers and the migratory animals lured to the fleshy pulps that surround the seeds like apples, oranges, and tomatoes. The animals swallow whole, allow to pass through their digestive tracts fully intact, and then deposit on the ground the seed whose embryo will use its nutrient rich sequestered energy to sprout, flower, and be pollinated all over again. However, some nonsensical, tropical, flowering fruits like avocados, mangos, and paw paws ripen, fall from trees in mass, and carpet the ground with attractive aromas, but their seeds are far too big for today's omnivores to swallow whole. Such fruits coevolved with Cenozoic era megafauna that evolved to their sizes over millions of years to deter predators, store energy, and over power mating rivals like the four ton, twenty foot tall, giant ground sloth that could balance on its rear haunches with its sturdy tail like a tripod, slurp fruits through its frontally toothless jaws, and allow the pulp covered inedible seeds to easily slide down its massive gullet.

Before our Age of Mammals ended with the last Ice Age, when hunter gatherers descended upon the Americas from north to south with Clovis spears overkilling any slow breeding megafauna that survived the melting permafrost that altered their habitats, honey hunters were depicted pursuing nature's buzzing superfood in Near East pictographs. First we ate the sweetest thing found in nature directly from the source and then we started keeping the hives in clay cylinders with a bee opening on one side and a honeycomb access lid on the other. The barging of bee colonies down the Nile River helped develop modern agriculture and eventually led to modern beekeeping techniques like adding brood frames to prevent the hive from splitting and swarming to a new location. However, honey bees belonged among the wildflowers requiring multiple pollen sources to remain healthy, and over this past decade numerous species of wild bees have gone extinct and domestic honey bee colonies have collapsed because superorganisms are highly susceptible to system stresses mankind has created like resistant mites, climate change's droughts, and industrial agricultures' pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified crops.

An old method to locate unadulterated honey was to catch several bees, release and follow one until you lose it, then release another and repeat until you reach the hive. An alternative method with just two captured bees and a trusty compass was to release one and take an azimuth, walk to another location, release the second and take another azimuth, then triangulate their destination. Unfortunately there aren't many honey bees left, and if Mother Nature is still expecting the 13,000 year old ghosts of megafauna to harvest otherwise overbuilt flowering fruits, will she be able to adapt any quicker without honey bees to meet the pollination needs of modern society's only 10,000 year old agriculture?