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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 068: Saturday 15th June 2002

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Island Ecology
by José P Ribas

 
Bees - Part Five
 

The photo of a bee sitting upon a flower, licking its nectar, is probably the most familiar image that we all have of bees.

Only beekeepers see the bees in the first half of their life, the first three weeks, when they live and work inside the hive.

Only then do the bees fly outside the hive, first for two or three days, as guardians of its entrance, then and for the rest of their life, as pollen, water and nectar collectors. (This they will transform into honey with the help of some body fluids)

It is during this period of about twenty-five days when they become familiar to us. (Only the bees that reach the end of the harvest season, at the beginning of the winter, and spend the cold season feeding themselves with their stocks of pollen and honey, sheltered inside the hive, without having to use most of their energy, can survive till next spring, up to six months, all together, at the most).         

But the really most important job that bees do when they sit upon a flower is not collecting this rich and sweet aliment for us, greedy humans. Since before we even appeared on Earth, a very large number of plants have been using these insects as “Cupid”, as messengers in their love affairs, as a very effective way, sometimes the only way, for their reproduction, like artificial insemination, so common in our modern times.   

I’m talking about pollination; the way complete plants (Phanerogams) use the fecundation of their own seeds for reproduction.

Pollination, passing the pollen produced in the stamen (the masculine organ of the flower) to the stigma (the female) that receives the pollen, situated on the top of the pistil, and from there to the ovaries, where the seeds are fecundated by it) is done by different forms: Auto-pollination, when everything happens in every single flower or in different flowers of the same plant, directly without needing any outside help, or just by the wind (Anemophillas flower). (There is also pollination by the water, for some kind of grass and aquatic-plants that works in similar ways).

The flowers of these types of plants are normally small, insignificant, without aromas, and they don’t produce nectars or anything that’s interesting for the majority of insects. Good examples of these plants are wheat, corn and oats, as well as tobacco and peas and also the oak, black poplar, linden, elm, walnut and pine trees, among others.   

Finally, there is the crossed pollination, pollen from the flowers of a plant pollinating flowers of other plants of the same species. Those are the flowers that we all know and appreciate for their colours, aroma and beauty, the ones that produce nectars to attract and feed a good amount of small creatures (zoophilla flower), that the plant uses in a perfect symbiosis to complete its vital circle.

The crossed pollination of the zoophilla flower is basically done by insects (entomophilla flower), but also by birds (ornitophilla flower), bats and other small mammals, even snails and little reptiles.      

Among the insects, the bees, the different kinds of honeybees, are without doubt the most important of them all, the most responsible for this job, because of their number and how hard they work. The entire bee-society depends on it; even their own hairy bodies are highly built up especially for doing this job. Pollen and nectar (honey) is what they eat and they can’t survive any other way.

Visiting the Hives at “Can Pep Cudulá”

To speak (I should say to listen and learn about pollination and about bees in general, Gary and I went in March, the beginning of our spring, about two weeks before the official date of the real spring, the bee-season, to visit one of the best beekeepers of the Island and also a good friend, José Planells “Pep Cudulá”, who lives and keeps some of his hives in his finca, near Sant Llorenç. (Gary wanted to take photos of the groundwork with the bees, of the interior of a real hive and of the work of the beekeepers collecting the swarms, preparing the new panels for the new season and replacing the old honey-panels)  

As our conversation started about the priceless job that bees do in the pollination of plants and the enormous benefit that this means, not just for the plants, but to humans and life in general, Pep Cudulá says with his good manners and tranquil voice: “Perhaps we will never reach to understand and appreciate what this little insect has really done and still does for evolution of life and the progress of the human kind”.

Then I asked him to clear up why bees are so efficient doing this job. How, if they fly all over, from plant to plant and from flower to flower can they be so precise? Why there are not many accidents in the crossing pollination?

“Once the bees start to collect the nectar and pollen from a specific kind of flower, normally one of the most plentiful in the area at a certain time of the year, they continue with the same flower until the harvest is completed and the honey panels are full”.

“There are some accidents sometimes, for example if you have a field planted with sweet peppers, and there are near by some plants of hot-peppers (chiles), because they are the same family of plants, soon you will have a mixture of hot and sweet peppers, even in the same plant, this can give you a hot surprise sometimes, specially when you mean to eat a salad or any other dish made with sweet peppers, this can happen as well with different kinds of melons and cucumbers, also it is easy to find bitter almonds in what is supposed to be a sweet almond tree, but some of these accidents are even profitable and help to form new varieties. This only happens between plants of the same families and in general, we can say that bees are far more precise then man as far as knowing different plants and flowers.  

“So we can also speak of different kinds of honey, depending on which type of plants the bees have been visiting. The difference in the colour, aroma, thickness and taste are obvious if you can see and taste them one by the side of the other, even for the non-experts.

“Most of the honey that we buy in jars at the shops is a mixture of different types mixed by the industrial experts looking for a specific quality and homogeneity, as it happens for example with coffee and some wines. But here, as we don’t produce in industrial ways, our honeys are all different and we call them by the name of the plant, “rosemary honey”, “thyme honey”, “azahar honey” (azahar is Spanish for the orange-tree flower and its aroma. I don’t know if there is an English word for it).  My favourite is the carob-tree-flower honey. I was honoured with the second prize presenting this type of honey in the first and only honey show in our Islands.


Pep Codulá


Bee Hives at Can Pep Codulá


Pep Codulá on his way to attend the bees


Pep Codulá checking the honey


Pep Codulá amongst his bees


Pep Codulá smoking the bees

All Pictures © Copyright Gary Hardy (March 2002)

We shall continue for another week of two with Pep Cudulá and his deep knowledge about bees and interesting practical lessons about Nature in general.

 
José P Ribas
josepribas@liveibiza.com
 

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