To Bee or Not To Bee

Ha ha! So damn clever, I am, with that title. Unfortunately, the wily bee is not so clever. Bees are disappearing without reason, and it could spell trouble for the honey, nature documentary, and elaborately planned homicide industries.

It’s not all bees that are disappearing; it’s only the European honey bee, which, obviously, is mostly doing its disappearing in North America. They’re suffering from something called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” which sounds like something Hernan Cortez was diagnosed with when he pranced into Tenochtitlan, found that they considered him to be the Savior, and felt rather alarmingly uninitiated to contradict them. Bees by the thousands are simply disappearing, either dying in what is most likely a rather disgusting pile of insect corpses, or flying off to parts unknown never to return, perhaps to desolate places such as Siberia or a Cuban health clinic.

People tend to have a love-hate relationship with bees. Mostly, it’s hate, though. The only positive things that come about for bees are when they’re trying to sell us cereal or nasal decongestant. People hate bees because they build nests in inappropriate places, they hurt like the dickens when you step on them in cheap flip-flops, and they make your girlfriend squeal and jump around like a broken wind-up toy from a Happy Meal when even the mere suggestion that a bee is present is disclosed to her. Actually, that last one is a benefit, not a drawback, especially if she’s wearing a tank top, but you get the idea.

I remember when I was a child I was scared of the Killer Bees, a menace to America so fraught with portent that they must be capitalized. I received the awful news from the most trusted of sources—the network TV movie. One of the channels, in a fit of one part “educating the public” and six parts “we want to show something with bees in it” wrote, filmed, produced, and aired a particularly disturbing movie about how Killer Bees were going to invade America from Mexico (or perhaps Chile or Nepal—it doesn’t really matter) and KILL US ALL with their poison stingers and the lackadaisical attitude towards watching our cholesterol. This instilled in me a fear of bees in general, and I waited patiently for the Coming Storm when the skies would blacken from the wings of the Infinite Swarm, stinging me and my family to a painful and possibly fatal death. I even remember devoting an unfortunate amount of time of my childhood developing, with a mechanical pencil on graph paper stolen from school, the perfect anti-Killer Bee house with plenty of places to hide, somehow impenetrable from bees the size of dimes, and an elaborate schematic of pipes from which fountains of Ultra-Strength Raid could be dispensed to negate the oncoming slaughter. I should have been hooking up with that cute brunette who sat behind me in Study Hall, but instead I was making the world’s most elaborate Anti-Bee House.

I know better now, of course. The best way to get rid of bees is to pour gasoline in their hive and throw a match on it. By the way, any one of you can nominate me for the ASPCA Humanitarian Award any day now.

Lost in all this scary bee talk is that fact that bees help us. And they don’t just help us by getting us out of mowing the lawn. For one thing, they aid in the pollinating of flowers, which is required for…something. I don’t recall, because I spent most of my elementary school biology class designing a freakin’ Anti-Bee house. But I’m reliably informed that it is necessary in the diversification of a healthy biosphere, or some nonsense like that, but apparently what it boils down to is that if bees don’t pollinate, almonds will be about eight bucks an ounce. And that’s just tragic.

From my own personal observation, the main benefit of the bee shortage is the emergence of the humble bumblebee. (Yes, I had to use that adjective.) I love bumblebees; even though they’re just as painful to step on, or accidentally inhale when you yawn while riding the lawn mower you couldn’t get out of using, they’re just so comically friendly. Or, rather, they seem friendly; they hover about, the Koob of the colony, slowly lumbering about (yes, I had to use that verb) looking for a place to sit down and lick the flower bits they’ve collected off of their weird-looking knees. And, yes, those would be the bee’s knees.

Alas, all this talk of the great bee disappearance is probably bunk. Most beeologists assure everyone that sudden decreases in bee population are rather cyclical, probably because beekeepers’ sons aren’t a dutiful to the bee industry as their fathers were. (I’m assuming fathers, here, since I highly doubt too many women act as beekeepers, unless beekeeping involves jumping up and squealing most of the time.) And bees will rebound in no time, no doubt bringing the price of honey down to a more manageable level so the four or five people in the world who actually eat honey on a regular basis can sleep easy at night. At least they don’t have to worry about Killer Bees.

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