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Queen Bee: The matriarch of the beehive

Remember when Rizwan Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) in ‘My Name is Khan’ informed Rita Singh that cell phones kill bees, the audience was stung by this new piece of information. Rizwan tells Mandira’s ( played by Kajol) friend Rita how cell phones interfere with bees’ sensory abilities, causing them to become disoriented and lose their way as they fly back home.

On World Bee Day 2021, let us congregate the long-forgotten significance of bees in our lives.

Bees are an integral and necessary part of our agricultural and ecological systems, producing honey, and more importantly, pollinating our crops. Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities.

Pollination is a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend, entirely, or at least in part, on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land. Apart from directly contributing to food security, pollinators are key to conserving biodiversity.

The alarming rate of extinction of the present species of bees is 100 to 1000 times higher than normal due to human impacts. Close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally. 

If this trend continues, nutritious crops, such as fruits, nuts and many vegetable crops will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet.

The practices such as Intensive farming, land-use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose problems for bee populations and, by extension, the quality of food we grow.

As Shah Rukh Khan also quotes in the movie, Albert Einstein said “ If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would have only four years left to live”. And bees are under threat.

Thus, what Rizwan Khan unwittingly says to Rita Singh on their morning jog in the movie exposes an imminent ecological crisis.

All cinema lovers or Shahrukh Khan fans like myself must remember this scene and came across some unnerving information which goes on to show how a mere half-a-minute scene in a movie can bring an environmental issue to the notice of the cine-goers.

The role of Queen Bee

The role of Queen Bee, the matriarch of the beehive is impregnable. The world of the bees in the beehive literally revolves around the queen bee. She has a vital role to play in the maintenance of a healthy beehive. With some exceptions, she is the only queen in a colony of honey bees that may number 60,000 or more

How the Queen mates

Shortly after her birth. the queen goes under the mating process where she attracts drones in a “drone congregating area” and mate with approximately 10–20 or even 30 different drones. A drone who mates with the queen will die during the process because his appendage will be ripped from his body during the process. But interestingly, the queen actually only mates on one day in her life and that with up to 30 different drone bees. During her mating day she gets filled with around 100 million different sperm cells, she’ll begin her task of propagating the hive.

The Queen’s hive

The queen is the mother of all the bees in the hive. Amazingly, she will lay an average of 1,500 eggs daily throughout her life. (That’s about one egg every 45 to 55 seconds!) Fertilized eggs will be workers or queens and unfertilized eggs will be drones. She is so busy laying eggs that she needs attendants to do everything for her, from grooming to feeding. The queen bee almost never leaves the hive. She is too busy bearing the sole responsibility for making the next generation of bees.

Interaction in the hive

The queen gives off a queen pheromone. This conveys the message to the workers about her health and productivity. When workers can no longer smell the pheromone at a sufficient “per bee” concentration they know it is time to raise a new queen, because there are too many bees for the one queen.

The apparent majority of the other bees supports her egg-laying productivity. While much of their work is not directly related to egg-laying, it all contributes to the ongoing survival of the colony.

The matriarch of the hive, and egg-laying prowess, the mother and surrogate father to all the workers and drones, and a creature of true beauty and keeper of the environment.

World Bee Day 2021

The theme of World Bee Day 2021 is: Bee Engaged — Build Back Better for Bees.

The observance of World Bee Day worldwide aims to:

  • draw the attention of the world’s public and political decision-makers to the importance of protecting bees;
  • remind us that we depend on bees and other pollinators;
  • protect bees and other pollinators, which would significantly contribute to solving problems related to the global food supply and eliminate hunger in developing countries; and
  • halt the further loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, and thereby contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The proposal set forth by the Republic of Slovenia, with the support of Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), to celebrate World Bee Day on 20 May each year was met with approval by the UN General Assembly in 2017.

How can we do more?

There are certain methods that are sited by the United Nation on how we on an individual level can make the environment a sustainable environment for the bees. 

  • planting a diverse set of native plants, which flower at different times of the year;
  • buying raw honey from local farmers;
  • buying products from sustainable agricultural practices;
  • avoiding pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in our gardens;
  • protecting wild bee colonies when possible;
  • sponsoring a hive;
  • making a bee water fountain by leaving a water bowl outside;
  • helping sustaining forest ecosystems;
  • raising awareness around us by sharing this information within our communities and networks; The decline of bees affects us all!

As beekeepers, or farmers by:

  • reducing, or changing the usage of pesticides;
  • diversifying crops as much as possible, and/or planting attractive crops around the field;
  • creating hedgerows.

As governments and decision-makers by:

  • strengthening the participation of local communities in decision-making, in particular, that of indigenous people, who know and respect ecosystems and biodiversity;
  • enforcing strategic measures, including monetary incentives to help change;
  • increasing collaboration between national and international organizations, organizations and academic and research networks to monitor and evaluate pollination services.

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