The insect that heals by Femi Abbas
It cannot be strange to anybody who is well familiar with the Qur’anic contents that there are 114 chapters in that sacred book. Out of these, six chapters are dedicated to the animal kingdom, three of which are specifically dedicated to insects. They are chapters 16, 27 and 29 which are dedicated to ‘The BEE’, ‘The ANT’ and ‘The SPIDER’ respectively.
Each of these cited chapters is particularly symbolic of the purpose to which it is dedicated. But it takes only those who can reason and engage in further research to comprehend them. However, our immediate concern here is the miraculous insect called ‘BEE’ about which Qur’an 16, verse 68 quoted above is explicit.
The Insect called Bee
Most people see the bee as an ordinary insect that interacts with human life positively or negatively. They believe that honey is the only beneficial product of the bee. They also believe that if they can live comfortably without honey they can as well cope with life without bees. Such beliefs are unfortunately based on ignorance.
Honey as one of about seven products of the bee is like a message. No one can gain access to a message except through the messenger. And the messenger, in this case, is the bee that produces it. To appreciate the value of honey and other bee products, it is necessary to know something about the insect called the bee and the effect of its lifestyle on human life.
The Lifestyle of Bees
Bees are social insects living a communal life under an organized and disciplined government. Bees have male and female genders. Their males are called drones. Their females are known as workers. They all live together in an abode called hive. Such hive may be wild or man-made. Though people had been harvesting honey for thousands of years, it was not until 1851 that the idea of a definite man-made hive came into existence. In that year, an America apiarist, Lorenzo Lorrain Langstroth, discovered the principle of ‘bee space’ and designed a man-made hive that was named after its designer (Langstroth). According to that man’s discovery, bees leave spaces of about 0.6 cm (about 0.23 inches) between wax combs inside which they store honey. Thus, Langstroth’s discovery made it possible to remove individual frames from a beehive and to harvest honey and wax without destroying the hive. Through such effort, it also became possible to control diseases in the hive and to maintain a larger number of colonies. (A colony is a hive effectively occupied by bees while an apiary is a place where several hives are kept.
Types of Bee Hives
Man-made hives are of three types for now. These are Langstroth, Kenyan top bar and Tanzanian top bar. Kenyan and Tanzanian top bars are similar in shape and outlook. The one was designed in Kenya in about 1958 while the other was designed in 1962 on the template of that of Kenya.
Each of the Kenyan and Tanzanian hives can contain an average of 20 liters of honey. Langstroth on the other hand can contain as much as about 40 liters or more. Langstroth has a bigger accommodation capacity because of its double or triple Decker design with which it came.
How to hive the Bees
To get the bees to colonize the hive, what apiarists do is to bate such hives with some pure, genuine honey added to a piece of beeswax and put at the entrance of the hive. On smelling the odour of the honey, the bees will come in their hundreds or even thousands to colonize the hive. Thus, such hives become bee colonies.
Government of the Bees
Bees are governed by a female monarch called ‘the Queen’. To choose the Queen that will govern the hive, a group of queenmakers among the bees in the hive meet to select some fertilized eggs shortly before those eggs are hatched and incubate them royally. When they are hatched and become princesses, they are then fed with a special food called Royal Jelly to accelerate their growth and facilitate their longevity. After about 16 weeks, one of them is chosen and made the Queen while the rest are either taken out into new hives as Queens or left altogether to slug it out with one another in a royal battle for survival. In such a melee, whichever of them overpowers the others will emerge as the next Queen of that particular colony. The other fertilized eggs that are not selected for the same purpose are left to grow naturally until they become worker bees.
Functions of the Drones
Drones are the male bees produced from unfertilized eggs. They neither sting nor work. Their main job in the hive is to mate with the queen which they do only once in a lifetime. As soon as they finish mating, the drones fall down and die as they have completed their destined duty. The queen also mates only once in a lifetime but she does not die as a result. Drones are very few in any hive since the unfertilized eggs that produce them are scantily laid by the Queen.
Drones constitute less than one per cent of any hive population. Their population is invariably determined by the Queen bee that lays very few big and unfertilized eggs from which the drones are produced. On the other hand, the worker bees are produced from smaller but fertilized eggs.
Culture of the Bees
By the natural culture of the bees, the Queen neither mates inside her own hive nor mated by the drones from the same hive. This is similar to the principle of endogamy (marriage within the same family) which is culturally prohibited in most African clans. Only one Queen can be found in a hive at any given time. And she has no deputy.
When it is time for the Queen bee to mate, she produces a glandular secretion with which she sends out with a powerful pheromone into the air to alert the drones in other hives around that she is ready for mating. A meeting is then arranged by the worker bees, between her and some interested drones, to mate with the Queen. And the mating is done in the air.
Breeding new Bees
To breed new bees, the Queen bee must lay unfertilized eggs in the larger chambers of the bee comb while she lays fertilized ones in the small chambers of the comb. The eggs in the larger chambers are meant for the production of the drones while those in the smaller chambers are meant for the production of the worker bees. This is because the drones are naturally bigger in size than the workers. Both chambers are expertly designed in the honeycomb by the worker bees for the purpose of breeding.
The Mystery of Bee Comb
One of the mysteries of the beehives is the building of the honeycomb by the bees. Researchers in the field of apitherapy know that the bees use wax to build honeycomb but they are still puzzled by the natural skill with which those tiny insects do it. An attempt by those researchers to manufacture similar honeycomb manually as a means of assisting the bees in reducing their workload has proved abortive as the bees have shunned such artificial comb. Honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal cells built by the honeybees in their nest to contain their larvae and store honey and pollen.
Classification of Worker Bees
Worker bees are classified into groups for the purpose of carrying out specific duties assigned to them. Some go out every morning to scout for flower nectars with which to produce honey. Some are assigned to the duty of picking tree resin with which to produce propolis. Some others are charged with fetching water to be used in the hive. Some serve as guards. Some serve as informants. But except for those assigned to internal duties, all of them travel out in groups into the wild vegetations or plantations every morning as a matter of duty. Those of them that travel to carry out such duties are called foragers.
Division of Labour
Among the other multitudes remaining in or around the hive, some are responsible for guarding the hive against any foreign attack or aggression. They are the security officers. Some are assigned to carrying out the conversion of nectars into honey. Some others engage permanently in fanning the interior of the hive with their tiny wings to reduce the heat and neutralize the humidity therein. Those are the ventilators. Some specialize in converting resin into propolis. Those are the pharmacists or apothecaries. Some are assigned to the Queen’s kitchen as special cooks and prepare royal jelly for the Queen which is the latter’s exclusive food. Those are the Queen’s royal chefs.
Some bees are kept at the entrance of the hive for monitoring the environment and for passing any gathered information to the busy workers. Those are the informants. Some are put in charge of nursing the young bees into adults. They are the foster mothers. Some are assigned to the building and maintenance of the honeycomb. Those are the colony architects and builders. Some are assigned to sterilization of the interior of the hive and the ceiling with propolis. They are also charged with the duty of embalming any predators that stray into the hive and stung to death. Such predators are stung to death to prevent any outbreak of epidemic in the hive that the decay of those predators can cause. Those are the sanitary inspectors. All of these duties are carried out by the female bees called worker bees.
Duties of Foragers
Worker bees, by their nature, do travel very far in search of water or raw materials needed to carry out their assigned duties in the hive. And they follow the principle of ‘esprit de corps’ in carrying out such duties.
This great division of labour is a daily routine which enables perfection to be attained in the hive. And all these activities are centrally coordinated by the Queen bee from her palatial chamber. The Queen bee herself is about five times bigger in size than the worker bee. She lays an average of about 2,000 eggs per day. And she lives about 40 times longer than those other bees because of the exclusive diet of Royal Jelly which she takes every day. The average lifespan of an ordinary bee is six weeks. That of the Queen bee is two and a half years but she can live for as long as six years depending on the conduciveness of her royal environment.
The Queen’s Succession Procedure
When the Queen bee becomes old or weak and can no longer lay enough eggs (of between 1,500 and 2,000 per day) with which to sustain the population of the hive, the Queen-makers in the hive meet and jointly decide to depose her by stinging her to death. Then, she is replaced with a new, vibrant Queen.
The Bees’ Friendly and Hostile Stings
Stinging is part of the duties of the worker bees. And each of them can sting only once in a lifetime. No bee can sting twice. Bees have both friendly and hostile stings. The one is for healing diseases in human beings. The other is like a missile reserved for an attack on enemies. The natural sac in which their venom is kept at the tail end of their abdomen is called ‘ovipositor’.
Food of the Bees
It must be noted that the bees work and produce honey and other products for themselves and not for human consumption. Honey is the food of the bees. They work hard during the dry season to produce honey which is the food they will eat during the raining season. Bees do not work during the rainy season because they cannot cope with the wind and storm which often accompany rains. Thus, during the rainy season, they concentrate on taking care of the Queen and on nursing the younger bees. It takes an average bee about 21 days to grow into an adult from the egg status while it takes the Queen about 16 days to develop from the egg status to the royal status of a Queen.
Species of Bees
There are about 20,000 species of bees in the world. But the most prominent ones in relation to human life are seven. These are Bumble Bees; Carpenter Bees; Honey Bees; Killer Bees; Ground Bees and Yellow Jackets Bees. Some worker bees are stingless. But generally, the world of bees is a wonderful one. It takes those who know it to appreciate its value. Without bees, there will be neither crops nor farmers. It takes the bees alone to pollinate over 80% of the plants that produce foods for human consumption. No amount of narration here can expose all about the communal life of the bees. Their story is inexhaustible. The seven products of the bees, including honey, and their usefulness to human lives will be discussed in this column soonest, God willing. Meanwhile, only Islam could have provided this wonderful knowledge about the bees over 1400 years ago.