Sunday 13 September 2009

Sting like a bee? Dance like a bee?

Nature produces a species that can sting like a bee, but cannot be stung back because it has armour plates and is called a wolf. The honey bee or bumble bee is not meant to be able to fly anyway, but waggles a dance. While the wolf has difficulty adapting to change, it has been around for a long time featuring in folklore and mythology, including the well known Roman tradition that a wolf was responsible for the childhood survival of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome.

Romulus and Remus nursed by the She-wolf by Peter Paul Rubens (Rome, Capitoline Museums)

The gray wolf survived the ice ages slowly adapting and thriving to be able to live in most habitats – temperate forests, deserts, mountains, tundra, grasslands and even urban areas; however it has now been restricted to a much smaller range, because of the widespread destruction of its territory and human encroachment of its habitat or local extinction (extirpation).

Though once abundant over much of Eurasia and North America, the gray wolf has been pushed to the northern expanses and wildernesses – human cultures have a love hate relationship with the wolf, in some it is respected and revered, while in others they were feared and held in distaste.

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Bees are an enormous species, it is estimated that there are 20,000 varieties in nine families, but entomologists generally agree that these numbers are likely to be much larger, and they are found everywhere, except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contain insect pollinated flowering plants.

It is thought that approximately one third of our food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees. They collect nectar which they use as an energy source, while the pollen is primarily used for protein and other nutrients, as well as feeding the next generation – the larvae.

A solitary bee visiting Lantana

They too have evolved and are, like ants, a specialised form of wasp. It is thought that ancestrally the bees switched from insect prey to pollen gatherers, as their target was always covered in pollen when fed to the wasp larvae. The earliest insect flower pollination occurred by beetles well before bees came along; the novelty as far as entomologists is concerned is that bees are generally more efficient as pollinators than any other pollinating insect such as beetles, flies or butterflies.

This evolution has continued and there are now a great many different types of bee of the solitary or the communal types. The honey bee, bumblebee and stingless bee have advanced altruistic forms of community – they practice mass provisioning, complex nest architecture and perennial colonies, while other simpler community types have developed over the millennia.

Beekeeping or apiculture has been developed by humans to farm honey bees to obtain the honey, but recently managed populations of the honey bee may be one potential problem of the disease ‘colony collapse disorder’, however this management may provide a way to contain the condition and allow new colonies to be started up.

Other particular species are the Bumblebee, immortalised so often in children’s tales, the killer bee (Africanised Honey Bee) – these bees are generalists, while, for example, the Orchid Bee, the Hornfaced Bee and other types exhibit a narrow, specialised preference for pollen sources, typically to a single genus of flowering plants.

European Honey Bees Lebanon

The ability of bees to be able to fly has been vexing scientists and mathematicians for years and since 1934 when it was found that their flight could not be explained by fixed-wing calculation – as the calculations “don’t square with reality”, the chase has been on to solve this challenge. There appears to be a connection called the Dance of the Bees relative to their waggle – a navigational command as to the whereabouts of their food source – the flowers. At this point I bow out and leave you to look at the “Hive Mind Honey blog” for a greater understanding, or Wikipedia.

Now you’re asking, I hope, why on earth do we have story on wolves, on bees – well how about a BeeWolf which is actually a wasp, known as a bee hunter (hence its name). This predatory insect injects venom into the bee, which only paralyses it leaving it ready for use in a new brood chamber within the burrow, when an egg is laid. The bee may try to sting back, but another evolutionary feature is that the BeeWolf has an armour plated covering, which prevents a deadly attack from its prey.

The European beewolf, Philanthus triangulum

Nature is so clever – it may take eons for all of these evolutionary forces to take effect, and that constant evolvement continues on – the domestic dog only ‘broke away’ from its common ancestor the wolf approximately 15,000 years ago; will we understand if the waggle dance of the bee actually explains how it flies, and will the BeeWolf continue to hunt bees? Time will tell.

Dear Mr Postman thank you for taking this letter up to my mother, she enjoyed the story on the Banksian nut and Banksia rose and commented that of course those mammoth journeys by Cook were under sail! I explained the four major journeys Cook made, and gave her some background, as I have realised that the mix of subjects within each blog post can be muddling for her – she can still comprehend, and come up with appropriate comments – and takes an interest and is interested, as long as I speak clearly and slowly enough with some pauses for her to comment, if she wants to = for us both the most important thing: getting the interaction going. I have to say my subjects would bemuse most people ... we talked about the fire surviving banksias plants and Captain Cook’s cottage ... but not my mother.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

Now that is an interesting tie to both the bee and the wolf. Thank you for all that information on both the wolf and the bee. Bee's are amazing insects are they not.

Thank you for the great post.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deanna and Dan .. yes - they are an interesting mix .. but a little bit on all three. Bee's are amazing - as you say.

Thanks for visiting ... Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Believe Achieve - Hugo and Roxanne said...

Hi Hilary,

We just started our homeschooling journey a couple weeks ago, and last week we learned about the letter "B." One of our theme words was Bumblebee! So, I taught the Kiddos a few things about the life of bees. :-) I'd never heard of the BeeWolf. I'll have to remember this info when I give them a more in depth study about the amazing Bee.
Thank you for sharing this! :-)

Many Blessings....

Roxanne and Hugo
Believe Achieve

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hugo and Roxanne .. thanks for coming over - homeschooling .. the kids grow?! Letter B - yes the bumble bee features highly ... especially with its bzzz, bzzz.

I was just interested in the evolution from wasp to bee, and then finding one was called a beewolf (even though it's actually a wasp!)

Glad you enjoyed it .. have many happy hours ahead learning new things from the kids!! and here I hope -

all the best -Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wilma Ham said...

Now I am surrounded by nature and see bees at work and need them to be at work, this was a great read. It never amazes me to find how nature works, it works so much better than the things men have come up with.
Armer plated and I bet it doesn't leave a carbon footprint.

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

My first job was working at Miller Honey Company It could get very messy at times. Sticky. But oh so good. My Grandmother work their for for over 20 years. They were good people to work for. I still love honey to this day. Maybe because I grew up on it from my grandmother. That is why learning more about bees was fun for me.

Hugo and Roxanne,

Enjoy the time that you can spend together. What better way than to home school your little ones. It is a good way to know just what they are learning.

Have a good day to everyone.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Hilary,

I love your posts. Every time I visit, I learn something new. Like now, I didn't know there are over 20,000 varieties of bees. That is a lot.

And the part about bees not suppose to be able to fly? Sometimes I wish they didn't. Especially when they're buzzing around my head. Yikeeesss!


I agree with you, nature is very clever indeed. I still can't imagine how man's body was formed, and how this body can contain a soul that can love and live in joy!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jocelyn .. thanks so much for visiting - it is extraordinarily clever isn't it. And absolutely as you say how man came about and where is his soul .. is amazing and it is so fantastic that we can share, laugh, love and live in joy together - a truly wonderful life.

Thanks for being here - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thanks for that info about the Miller Honey Co .. -just glad this has brought back some memories of those days. I bet it was sticky .. and wonderfully scented. Glad you enjoyed the miscroscopic part of the life of bees from being here - you know much more than most of us do ..

Thanks for visiting - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. great to see you here - and I'm so pleased you think the post/ stories are interesting. Life is such fun - but so complex in its development .. I love writing these 'letters' ...

The bees not being able to fly - came from Liara - she mentioned it .. so I had to bring it in .. and was surprised by what I found - but that mathematical aspect I cannot fathom! Yes - buzzz .. and then a little sting is a bit much! But we need them desperately ..

Thanks for coming by - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma ...thanks for dropping by .. you are lucky to be in the country and be able to spend the time with nature - just so glad you enjoyed it.

As you say .. it is incredible how things are 'put together' .. we appreciate these things so much more as we get older .. and understand the evolution that occurred just to create each tiny particle of life. As you say so much better than we have come up with - but are we the ultimate? I suspect the bee wolf is very carbon free!

Good to see you - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Giovanna Garcia said...

Hi Hilary,
I never knew that Wasp is Beewolf. To tell you the true personaly I dislike Wasp.
Very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot about nature.

Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Gio .. good to see you - yes the name of that particular wasp is a beewolf. I know especially at this time of year with the wasps buzzing around at the falling fruit. Thanks glad you enjoyed the snippets ...

All the best - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Davina said...

Hi Hilary. This was interesting. I had not been aware of the wolf's difficulty adapting to change. That surprised me. And wasps... I'm terrified of them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. thanks for coming across - good to see you here. Yes - I too was surprised that the wolf had survived the ice age and lived on as such slowly adapting as necessary. Wasps .. I think worry us all - a little!

All the best - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories