One of the most interesting creatures of the lakeshore is an insect that is more of an import than a native. I am talking about the honeybee. This “hired hand” originated in Europe and has been put to work pollinating the blossoms of the fruit grown all along the lakeshore.
You may wonder why we are talking about bees and fruit growing when our topic is the western shore of Lake Michigan. The reason is “lake effect”. The big lake moderates the climate within thirty miles or so of the shoreline. The air is kept warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The air coming across the large body of water from Wisconsin is warmed to the point that it is more similar to the temperatures of Kentucky. In fact, plants thrive in this narrow band along the lakeshore that cannot survive further inland. This special ecosystem has become one of the primary fruit producing areas in the whole United States. The fruit that is grown includes cherries, apples, peaches, plums, and blueberries, a crop grown by my own family.
Farmers actually bring in truckloads of palletized beehives. They use a forklift to unload the hives and set them throughout the farm to pollinate the blossoms. The bees are so very busy gathering nectar and pollen by stopping at each blossom that they pollinate all the blossoms in the process. Pollination and cross pollination are necessary for the fruit to develop and grow. In fact, with out honeybees along with some other native insects that help them, there would be no fruit.
Most other plants around the home and garden are greatly benefited by pollination also.
The hive of the honeybee is an amazing community with each individual functioning in a certain role for the wellbeing of the whole group. The more that scientists study the honeybee they find more and more amazing facts. The queen bee lives up to five years. She controls the hive and lays up to two thousand eggs a day. They develop into workers, drones and new queens.
The workers live for only six weeks in the summer before they burn out and die. At that time the hive can number from fifty to sixty thousand individuals. In the winter, the hive may only number ten to fifteen thousand. The workers live for nearly six months at that time. Queen bees are produced by feeding the larvae a special food called “royal jelly”. The drones are only there to mate and then die. They cannot sting or gather food. Most of them die before winter comes so that they are not a burden to feed.
One thing I have found especially interesting is that the bees control the temperature of the hive keeping it cool in summer and warm, up to sixty degrees, in winter.
The scout bees look for food then return to the hive to direct the other workers by a special dance shaped like a figure eight that guides the rest of them to the nectar. The scouts also have the job of looking for a new home.
When the queen begins to feel crowded she will prepare weeks ahead of time to leave the hive with many of the workers to find a new home. She leaves the old hive to the new queens who will soon be hatching from the eggs she has laid. When the queen makes this journey with thousands of her workers they are said to “swarm”. My experience with this amazing and fearsome event is the occasion for my writing on this topic.
A queen bee left her hive with her workers in a swarm to land in my backyard when the blueberries were in bloom in the fields next door in the spring. They seemed to block the sun and fill the air as they flew past. We ran for cover in the house. After several stops the swarm finally collected on a small sumac tree in my landscape. There were thousands of them clinging together. I learned later they were following the scent of the queen bee who was flying with them. They formed a teardrop shape with the queen in the center to protect her. The mass was nearly two feet tall and eighteen inches across. I called a beekeeper to ask if he wanted the swarm. He was there within an hour. I called my mother, a photographer, to see if she would like to see it and take pictures. She was there in ten minutes.
With the beekeepers there it became even more interesting. With bare hands and uncovered faces the keepers reached into the center of the mass of moving bees and shook the queen into the top of a hive that had been primed with honey to encourage her to accept it. The workers were so focused on the queen that they did not sting once. Immediately they began to drop into the hive to join her. She liked the smell of the hive so she stayed.
The keepers coaxed us to join them next to the hive for a close-up experience. They then picked out a drone to put on my hand. He did not have a stinger so he could only crawl around on my hand without hurting me. We sure had to swallow our fear and fight the urge to scream and run for cover! It was an incredible experience.
Half an hour later, most of the bees were in the hive. The beekeepers came back after dark to take the hive home. In the short time the swarm was in the tree the workers had already put down a layer of pure white wax on the branch where they were hanging. They had already begun to make a honeycomb.
I am still amazed at what I saw. This “simple” insect exhibits an incredible amount of organization and complex “social” behavior. This can only be attributed to an almighty Creator with infinite wisdom. This shows us that our God is the origin of all order and structure in the creation. In fact all of the works of His hands are so ordered that even the scientists who are delving into the far reaches of space or the smallest atoms and their parts speak of the laws of physics that describe His providential structure in the creation. Our lives must be characterized by that same order so that we are most productive in our service of our Lord. We must make time to work, to spend time with the family and worship. It is fine to be “busy as bees” but like them we must be orderly so that we are most productive. For that reason too, all thing in the church must be done “decently and in good order”.
The bee holds a special place in the revelation of God because there is reference to it sixty-five times in the Bible. The primary focus is on the sweetness of the honey and the honeycomb. Honey was a precious food because of the sweetness it provided to the taste. Psalm 19:10 says the judgements of God are “sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb”. Also, Canaan, which pictures our heavenly home, is “a land flowing with milk and honey”. In our personal relationships it is said “pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones”, Proverbs 16:24. The study of honey and royal jelly could be an interesting topic in itself. May we learn from this amazing creature to “bee” wise in things spiritual and practical.
Psalter Number Thirty-eight
The Lords commands are pure, They light and joy restore;
Jehovah’s fear is clean, Enduring evermore;
His statutes, let the world confess,
Are wholly truth and righteousness.
They are to be desired Above the finest gold;
Than honey from the comb More sweetness far they hold;
With warning they Thy servant guard,
In keeping them is great reward.
March 23, 2002