A honey bee is a uniquely designed insect. They release scents when they’re afraid. They dance to talk to one another. Drones die when mating. They have compound eyes which are made up of hundreds of little eyes. They have an extra stomach for carrying nectar. They obey their queen and follow their caste system. Honey bees are intriguing creatures, for sure–but what are they to us?
Besides their tendency to sting when feeling threatened, honey bees have a few other irritating habits. When searching for water, they tend to cluster around swimming pools, often scaring children and getting swatted at–an act which triggers their defense mechanism–stinging. While swarming, they have been known to stop sporting events by landing on a goal post, or to land other places where they are unwelcome. When possible, they steal honey from beekeepers who are harvesting another hive, from candy factories who leave their windows open–even right from your kitchen. If a source of honey is located, hundreds and thousands of bees can descend in a kitchen or barn to acquire as much of that honey as possible.
On a hot summer day, if a colony was built in the walls or ceiling of a house, honey will occasionally begin to melt and ooze through the cracks. Most irritating is that during their cleansing flights, they like to poop on laundry that has been hung out to dry.
On the other hand, bees pollinate our gardens. They make it possible to eat blueberries, almonds, and cucumbers. They pollinate the maple trees and the locust trees and the apple trees. They make honey of all varieties–dark and light, sweet and rich, clover and bamboo, which is good to eat, good for medicine, and good for washing your hair.
They make beeswax, which we use to make candles, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Pollen, which they bring back the hive, is consumed by humans to improve their immune system; propolis is another product made by bees and used for car wax and various medicinal purposes.
So the answer is yes, bees can be annoying. Sometimes they are even dangerous. But in the long run, they do more good for us than harm. Here is a quick anecdote: my brother was always allergic to honey bees; on more than one occasion he ended up in the emergency room. But my dad was a beekeeper. Their compromise was this: the bees were kept several acres away, over the hill and behind a copse of trees, and my brother never went there. Despite this affliction, he helped with extraction (the part away from the hives) and selling the honey. As a family we harvested many gallons of honey every year. We learned about a fascinating species which lived in our own backyard, and we learned of their importance to our ecosystem and to society as a whole.
The key is not to destroy those things that frighten us and can hurt us, but to learn to work with them. The question still stands: honey bee–friend or foe? I say friend.
Ariele Sieling grew up loving bees and working beside her father. She writes the blog “I’m in Love with the Universe” and is working on two novels. She is currently an writer, researcher, and electrician.