By Femi Abbas
It is an undisputable axiom that two phenomenal substances in human life are unsurpassable. One is knowledge. The other is time. None of these two has a substitute. Since the creation of man’s primogenitor named Adam and his spouse (Hawa’u), no human generation has ever lived successfully without these two substances.
Knowledge is power and time is life. Any rightly guided person who is well familiar with the contents of the sacred Book called the Qur’an’ will surely know that that glorious Book contains 114 chapters. Out of these, six chapters are about 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. That is a confirmation that the revealed messages of Allah are not meant for human beings alone.
The Referential Chapters
Each of the referred chapters is particularly symbolic of the purpose for which it is dedicated. But it takes only those who are rightly guided and can reason in the atmosphere of knowledge to comprehend them. However, our immediate concern here is the insect called ‘BEE’ about which Qur’an 16, verse 68 is very explicit. Here is the verse:
“And your Lord revealed to the bees thus: “Build your homes in the mountains, in the trees and in the hives which men shall make for you. Feed on every kind of fruits and follow the trodden path of your Lord’. “From its (bee’s) belly comes forth a substance of many hues that serves as healing fluid for mankind. Surely in this, there is a sign for those who can sensibly reason….”.
The Parable of Honey
Honey is like an environmental message. No one can gain access to it except through the messenger. And, the messenger, in this case, is the bee. To appreciate the value of honey and other bee products, it is necessary to know something about the life of the bee. Honey to the bee is like egg to the hen. No one knows which of them first came into existence. It is impossible for the bee to be alive without honey since honey is its food. And, it is impossible to get honey without the bee since honey is a major product of the bee. Thus their symbiotic existence is to the advantage of man.
The Life of Bees
Bees are social insects living a communal life under an organized and disciplined government headed by a Queen. 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 manmade. Although 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 American apiarist, Lorenzo Langstroth, who discovered the principle of space, strictly maintained by the bees, came up with the idea of building homes for bees. It was the study of this principle, by Loren, zo Langstroth, that led to the design of a man-made hive to suit the need of the bees. The hive was named Langstroth, in commemoration of its designer. Thus, with Langstrogth’s discovery, bees became domesticated insects.
A colony, as far as the bees are concerned, is a hive that is effectively occupied, as a home, by the bees while a combination of hives is called an apiary. And, a bee farmer who keeps custody of haves is called an apiarist.
In contemporary times, man-made hives are of three types. These are Langstroth, Kenyan Top Bar and Tanzanian Top Bar. While Langsroth was designed in the United States in 1851, Kenyan and Tanzanian Top Bars, which look almost alike, were designed in Kenya and Tanzania in 1959 and 1962 respectively. Each of the Kenyan and Tanzanian hives can contain an average of 20 litres of honey produced and stored by the bees. The hive called Langstroth, on the other hand, can contain as much as between 38 and 40 litresof honey because of its rooming space of double chamber capacity.
Government of the Bees
Bees are governed by a female monarch called ‘the Queen’. To install a Queen, a group of Queen makers in the hive meet to select some fertilized eggs shortly before those eggs are hatched. The selected eggs are then incubated royally. After hatching, they automatically become princesses and are then fed with a special food called Royal Jelly to accelerate their growth and strengthen their immunity as a way of facilitating their longevity.
After about 16 weeks, one of those princesses will emerge as the Queen apparent while the rest are either taken out into new hives to become Queens inside hives other than the one in which their eggs were hatched or they are left inside those original hive to slug it out among themselves in a royal battle for succession. In such a situation, whichever of them emerges as overall winner, will retain the crown and become the Queen of that particular hive. All other fertilized eggs that are not specially selected for the same purpose are left to grow naturally until they become worker bees.
Drones are the male bees produced from unfertilized eggs. They neither sting nor work. Their main duty, in the hive, is to mate with an emerged queen and that duty is performed only once in a lifetime because as soon as the mating is over, all the male bees that participate in it will automatically fall down and die.
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. The drones constitute less than one per cent of the bees in any hive. The other drones which do not participate in mating only loiter around in the hive and feed freely from the labour of the workers. The population of the drones in any hive is invariably determined by the Queen which lays very few big and unfertilized eggs from which the drones are produced.
The Worker Bees
The worker bees are female bees. They are produced from smaller but fertilized eggs. It is from among them that the queen bee emerges.
As workers that feed the queen and maintain the sanity of the hive, the female bees have a way of sharing duties among themselves in a way otherwise called division of labour.
The Queen Bee
The queen bee has the biggest size in any beehive. Her size is about five times the size of an ordinary worker bee and she is the commander-in-chief of the hive in which she lives. Only one Queen can be found in a hive at any given time. And she has no deputy. If two or more Queens should meet in the same hive, they will engage in a royal battle for survival, killing one another until only one (the strongest) eventually emerges as the victor and the reigning queen.
Breeding New Bees
To breed new bees, the Queen bee lays unfertilized eggs in the larger chambers of the bee comb while she lays fertilized ones in the smaller 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 workers. 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. One of the mysteries of the beehives is the building of the honeycomb by the worker bees. Apiarists 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, at a time, by researchers to manufacture similar honeycombs, as a means of assisting the bees, in reducing their workload, proved abortive as the bees shunned the use of such artificial comb for the storage of the honey they produced. Honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal cells built by the honeybees in their nest to contain their larvae and store honey as well as pollen.
Division of Labour
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 resin with which to produce propolis. Such resin is picked from certain specific trees at certain periods of the day. Some other workrs are charged with fetching water to be used in the hive. All of them travel out in groups of hundreds into the wild vegetations or plantations every morning to carry out their duties. And, for carrying out such duties, they are called foragers.
Among the other multitudes remaining in or around the hive, some are responsible for security by guarding the hive against any foreign attack or aggression. Those are the security officers. Some are assigned to carrying out the conversion of nectars into honey from the flower nectars brought into the hive by the foragers. Those are the corporate cooks manning the kitchen in the hive. Some engage permanently in fanning the interior of the hive with their tiny wings to reduce the heat and neutralize the humidity therein. Those are called ventilators. Some specialize in converting the resin of trees, brought into the hive by the foragers, into propolis. Those are called pharmacists or apothecarists. Some are assigned to the Queen’s special kitchen as special cooks and they prepare royal jelly for the Queen as her exclusive food. Those are called the Queen’s royal chefs. Some are kept at the entrance of the hive for monitoring the environment and for passing any gathered information to the busy workers. Those are called informants. Some are put in charge of nursing the young bees into adults. They are called foster mothers. Some are assigned to the building and maintenance of the honeycomb. They are called colony architects and builders. Some are assigned to sterilizing the interior of the hive particularly to ceil any leakages therein as well as to embalm any predators that stray into the hive after such predators might have been stung to death as a way of preventing any outbreak of epidemic in the hive. Those are called sanitary inspectors. All of these duties are carried out by the female bees called worker bees.
In the performance of their duties, some foragers do alert other worker bees about the discovery of new sources of raw materials like nectar, pollen and resin in the visited vegetations by doing a “waggle” dance, which explains the direction and distance of those raw materials. If the source is within the range of 100 meters from the hive, the bees dance in a circular shape. If it is farther away than 100 meters, they dance in figure 8 shape. Worker bees, by their nature, do travel very far in search of water or other 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 co-ordinated by the Queen bee from her palatial chamber.
Features of the Queen Bee
The Queen bee 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.
Character of Bees
Bees have as much friendly stinging as they have hostile stinging. Their friendly stinging, which serves as vaccine, is for healing purposes. Their hostile stinging is like missiles reserved for attack on enemies. The natural sac in which their venom is kept at the tail end of their abdomen is called ‘ovipositor’.
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 Jacket 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 neither be crops nor farmers because it the bees that fertilize about 80% of the crops.
Authenticity of the Qur’an
No amount of narration here can expose all about the communal life of the bees. The story of the bees is inexhaustible.
For many centuries, Professors and other intellectually inclined people have been studying the life of bees. Yet, it took the consciousness of an unlettered Prophet of Allah, from Arabia, to bring this mysterious knowledge to mankind through the Qur’anic revelation which he received from the Almighty Allah.
Looking at the communal life of the bees as well as the style of government in the beehive, no sensible person will disagree with an Arab poet who once coined a poetic couplet, part of which reads thus:
“…..And in every creature, there is a natural sign confirming not only the true existence of Allah but also His indisputable oneness”.
The truth will continue to thrive to eternity even if the unbelievers abhor it in their blatant ignorance. God bless the readers of ‘THE MESSAGE’.