"Peeking into a Honey Bee Superorganism of Honey Bee Super Organisms!"
"See ya, I'm heading out to the hives!" I yell across the farm. Today, I'm slipping on my bee suit to visit a superorganism! You're probably thinking that the individual honey bee is the super organism, since super organism is defined as an excellent living being. 1 However, did you know that the entire honey bee colony is considered a superorganism?2 As confusing as this may be, it opens up a whole new way of thinking about our amazing honey bees! What exactly is a superorganism and what does this mean to me, my community, and my world? I'll explain as I 'buzz on' back to my beehives.
A superorganism is an organism consisting of many organisms, and the term is ... used to describe a social unit of eusocial animals such as honey bees,...which have highly organized division of labor, and where [individual honey bees aren't] able to survive by themselves for any length of time.3 University of Delaware Entomology Professor Deborah Delaney stated during our interview, "Quite fascinating is that even though the individual honey bee organism is super, it isn't nearly as super as the entire colony of honeybees functioning like a single superorganism." Together as one body, the honey bees communicate with each other about scouting for pollen, regulating hive temperature, food storage, reproduction, self-defense, and swarming. According to Professor of Entomology and honey bee expert Dr. Keith Delaplane,...think of the hive...as a total functioning body with the ovaries being the queen; the testes being the drones; the body being the workers; the liver being the beeswax, and the uterus being the brood cells.4 Delaplane explains that the [beeswax] comb is the liver of the hive, ... [since] it absorbs the dirt, the chemicals, the bee footprints, [and] the cocoons.5 There is indeed a super advantage to being a superorganism! Have you ever wondered why exactly a honey bee colony is considered super to us? Let's peek inside a colony to look into this treasure trove of many health benefits!
I'm excited to check-in on this superorganism of super organisms! It may seem crazy, but I consider each hive a medicine cabinet. Prying open this hive is tricky since the 'glue-ish' propolis holds the lid tight! Propolis has proven antibiotic and antiseptic properties6 [and] can be considered extremely useful in cancer treatment.7 Next, I see pollen, which is richer in proteins than any animal source. 8 Pollen not only boosts energy but also treats addictions by crashing cravings and boosts the immune system!9 Finally, I find honey- the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.10 Like many people, I'm hoping to desensitize my allergies with honey. By eating local honey, a person is eating the local pollen. Over time, a person may become less sensitive to this pollen ... and experience fewer allergy symptoms.11 Also, many people in our community have told us that our honey is what helped them through their winter sicknesses! Honey contains super ... antibacterial properties which aid in healing.12 Worldwide, honey is used medicinally for many ailments, including abrasions, ... infections, ... sinusitis, burns, ... and urinary tract infections.13 The medicinal benefits are super, however, there is a greater reason why the world needs our honey bee colonies.
The biggest reason for needing these superorganisms is that our world's food supply depends on it. One out of every three bites of food that we put in our mouths is put there by pollinators.14 According to the USDA, the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.15 Honey bee colonies are dying by the millions and that could spell higher food prices at the store.16 Stepping back from my hive to look out over our farm, I admire the fruit and vegetable pollination work that these colonies have accomplished! There will be plenty of produce to bring to our market and appreciated by our community.
Time to close my hive to protect it from the weather! Unfortunately, there are many other mysterious dangers to my colonies and for colonies across the world. Mr. Tim Miller, the beekeeper of Wampler Honey, told me, "I lost 130 hives last year and 200 the year before." Research will help discover what is causing the collapse of these superorganisms and will help us to protect them. Scientists of EPA, USDA, and ... global [scientists] ... [believe] that the ... declining health of honey bees is related to ... pests, ... pathogens, ... viruses, poor nutrition, ... pesticide exposure, bee management practices, ... and lack of genetic diversity.17
Protecting our honey bee colonies should be on everyone's mind. Mr. Miller said, " Everyone can help by using fewer chemicals in yards, planting bee-friendly plants, and by keeping bees!" I also strongly believe in educating our communities around the world about "bee-safe" pesticide use. During our community farmers' markets, I inform customers to never allow car fluids, chemicals, or mosquito tablets to go into puddles because the honey bees drink the same water. I've advised my neighbor, Mr. Frank, to never use pesticide garden dust, since it mimics pollen. We don't want to risk honey bees bringing the toxic dust back to the hive. Deborah Delaney stated, "We need to learn the honey bees' biology, learn how they interact with the environment, and give them safe requirements of nectar, water, and pollen." Essentially, everyone will be helping themselves by helping to protect this great honey bee superorganism!
Isn't a trip back to the hives exciting? Chatting about the importance of our honey bees and how to keep them healthy is always front page news! It's been great visiting with my honey bee super organisms, but an even greater experience with my colony superorganism! Now- to get out of this hot bee suit.
1. William Collins Sons & Co. (2012)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition. http://www.dictionary.com.
2. Ellis, James D., Mortensen, Ashley N., and Smith, Bryan. ( 2015) University of FL, IFAS Extension. The Social Organization of Honey Bees. Publication #ENY-166. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1102.
3. P. Alex. (2017, June). Bee Time:Honey Bee Colony as Superorganism.
4,5. Tillman, Linda D. (2011, March). Linda Ts Bees: Delaplane on the Hive as a SuperOrganism.
6. Weil, Andrew M.D. (2008, January). WEIL. What are the Benefits of Bee Propolis?: I've been reading about bee propo/is lately. Seems interesting. Any thoughts?
7. Chantawannakul P., Khacha-Ananda S., Tragoolpua K., and Tragoolpua Y.
(2016, September). NCBI. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Propo/is extracts from the northern region of Thailand suppress cancer cell growth through induction of apoptosis pathways.
8. Mercola, Joseph. Mercola: The Use of Bee Pollen as a Superfood.
9. James and Laurentine. (2013, January). Food Matters: 10 Ways Your Health Can Be Improved By Eating 1 Spoon of This Unappreciated Bee Product.
10. Tan, Ruth.(2006). Benefits of Honey: 20 Wonderful Honey Bee Facts (#8 is Surprising).
11. Nall, Rachel. (2012, May) Healthline: Honey For Allergies.
12. Mandal, Manisha Deb and Mandal, Shyamapada. (2011, April) NCBI US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity.
13. Wolfe, David. (2009) Superfoods:The Food and Medicine of the Future.: Bee Products. Page 88. North Atlantic Books. ISBN: 978-1-55643-776-2.
14. Pollinator Partnership. Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse.
15. National Park Service. U.S. Dept. of Interior. (2015) THE IMPORTANCE OF POLLINATORS.
16. WKRG Staff.( 2018, January). News 5. Florida Beekeepers: 'Fewer bees could spell higher prices for food'.
17. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, January). Pollinator Health Concerns: Factors Affecting Pollinator Health.
Adams, Roger G. and Bartholomew, Candace. (2012). Protecting Honey Bees from Pesticide Poisoning. University of Connecticut. Connecticut.
Connor, Lawrence and Muir, Robert. (2012) Bee-sentials: A Field Guide. Michigan: Wlcwas Press.
Delaney, Deborah.University of Delaware. (2013). Eastern Apiculture:Bio/ogy of the Colony.
Mangan, Arty. (2017, August). Bioneers.org. The Amazing Life of Bees and the Threat of Systemic Pesticides: An interview with urban beekeeper Terry Oxford.
Oliver, Randy. (March, 2010). ScientificBeekeeping.com: An Adaptable Workforce.
Oliver, Randy. (2015, November). ScientificBeekeeping.com: Understanding Colony Buildup and Decline: Part 8.
Personal Interview Reseources
Garrett, Sonny. Beekeeper Mentor. Houston, DE
Miller, Tim. Beekeeper and Owner Wampler Honey. Personal Interview. 10 February 2018.
Delaney, Deborah. University of Delaware Entomology Professor. Personal Interview. 9 February 2018