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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

by José P Ribas

Bees
Part One



 
Ibiza Ecology

It's the month of the flowers ("Mayo, el mes de las flores," as we say in Spain).

This is the richest and most exuberant month of the year for plants and for Nature in general in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here, in the Balearic Islands, this phenomenal explosion of life can start one or two weeks earlier because of our weather conditions.

It may be interesting to remember why this particular time of the year, when Nature shows most of its splendid and colourful power is called May.

"May", "Mayo", "Mai", "Mai" or "Maggio" is how this month is called in European languages and the Occidental cultures with Latin and previously Greek roots to honour the Greek goddess of Nature, "Maya". It seems to be obvious why they chose this particular thirty-one days period for it.

"Die Biene Maja" (Maya, the bee), was also, as some readers will remember, the name for a German television cartoon series in the middle and late 1970s that was very successful with children (and some grownups) in all the countries where it was transmitted. In Spain, an entire generation grew up and learned to love Nature singing the melody of "La abeja Maya"; one of the first and still one of the best for the youngest children's environmental education.

The month of the flowers is also good news for the other potent symbol of Nature, the honeybee, which lives within a perfect symbiosis with the sexual organs of plants. Bees couldn't live without them, and plants in general would be far less successful in their multiplication without this amazing and laborious insect.

Bee-keeping or "Apiculture" is, according to some historians, one of the earliest activities that man learned to profit from animals without having to kill them. Apiculture was already practised in its most simple way, just collecting the honey from the natural hives, in pre-history.

We don't know who was the first man or people that could collect the swarms and keep them in hives made by man for this purpose, using for it all kinds of different materials, straw, osier, clay, cork, wood and even metal. In Roman times, the artificial hives were then installed near by, for a better control of the bees and a large profit from their production.

Ovidio, the Latin poet, says it was "Baco" the Roman "Dionisos", god of the wine and the good table (and from what they say, the after-dinner-parties as well), the first one to know of the art of collecting honey.

Plinio the Old, the Roman naturalist, wrote that it was "Aristeo" son of "Apollo" who taught the science of Apiculture to the humans. Also Virgilio, the poet, philosopher and naturalist, wrote in his "Georgicas" (C. IV) the legend of Aristeo and the bees, as well as some of the concepts and ideas about bees that were the basis for the modern development of this science, only just a hundred and fifty years ago, but still going on in traditional ways in some parts of the world.

The first laws concerning bees and Apiculture that we know of were written in the year 620 BC, by Solon, from Athens, one of the seven Greek "Wise Men". In the year 420 BC, Pericles wrote of 20,000 hives in Attic, and Apiculture was also taught by Aristotle in his writings, almost a century later.

Even before, there are records of this industry found in ancient tombs of China, Persia and especially in the Old Egypt that proves already a large knowledge of this science, with hive systems, objects and tools still used in some parts, such as Crete and other Mediterranean islands, including Eivissa.

In March this year, we had the visit to our Islands of the biologist professor Antonio Gomez Pajuelo, a real expert in Apiculture, who runs an industry and school concerning this science in Caltellón (País Valanciá).

He came to give a three-day course about modern Apiculture to our beekeepers, especially about the profit of the pollen and "propoleos", bee products that are gaining day by day more importance in the market, but never been properly developed by our amateur bee-lovers. (We will speak about the bee products in the following articles).

It was he, together with the president of the local beekeepers association, Sr. Antonio Peinado, who asked our authorities for help to preserve the local ancestral way of bee keeping, for its cultural and anthropological interest. Eivissa is one of the few places (along with the island of Crete and some parts of Aragón, in the Spanish Pirineos, where we can still see this type of Apiculture) that he considers to be originally from the Old Egypt, not less then 4,400 years ago.

The Bees

There is still a lot to be known about bees, especially in terms of classification of the amount of families and genes that exist, but obviously this is not the purpose of these articles. We can say that there are two main groups of these hymenopteron, "clistogastros" apidae insects (two pairs of membranous wings, the thorax and the abdomen joined by a very thin waist), the ones that live alone and the social ones.

The first is the most plentiful group. They collect pollen and nectar and some also can produce honey, but as they don't live in community it's impossible to profit its production and man does not exploit them, though they do a very good job with plant pollination.

There are three families of the second group, "Meliponidos", normally much smaller then the common bee and without the sting. More then 300 species of this family produce honey. "Bombidos", this is the family of the cockchafer, big and pretty, with a much longer horn, they can reach flowers that normal bees don't reach, so they are very important for pollination of some plants. Finally the "Apidae" family, to which belongs our common honey-bee "Apis melliphera" and all its varieties, as I'm reading now in my encyclopaedia, probably the oldest known domestic animal of all.

(To be continued)

A Bee Collecting Pollen
Bees Honeycomb
Raw Produces from Bees
Honey from Bees

José P Ribas

josepribas@liveibiza.com