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Honey Bee: Most Valued to Mankind since Ancient Times

“To the bee, a flower is the fountain of life, and to the flower, the bee is a messenger of love.” Kahlil Gibran

NeW  Bureau

The bees, the flowers, human beings and everything that developed alongside humans are all an interconnected series of events over an enormous amount of time.  Bee’s honey is one of the most valued and appreciated natural substances known to mankind since ancient times. There are also a number of valuable non-food products produced by the honey bee, such as beeswax, royal jelly, bee pollen, beauty products and other hive products. These products have a variety of uses, such as beeswax for candles and cosmetics, royal jelly for cosmetics, bee pollen as a protein source, and more. These products are very popular as health foods and cosmetics

Bees, ranging from wild solitary species to highly social and managed species like honey bees, play key roles in natural and agricultural ecosystems worldwide. Honey bees are native to Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe and have become naturalized in ecosystems around the world as a result of intentional transport by humans. Nowadays, beekeeping is a rapidly growing sector, due to the increasing interest for beehive nutraceutical products, with special reference to honey, propolis, pollen and royal jelly.

In the writings, artwork and symbolism of cultures and religions around the world from time immemorial are references to the bees and the substances they collect in Nature and make in their bodies, namely honey, bee pollen, bee propolis, royal jelly and wax.  These substances, along with the bees and the beehive, have been held in high esteem throughout human history in every part of the world.  Cave drawings dating back 20,000 years depict images of honey hunting. The ancient Egyptians transported their hives along the Nile to pollinate crops and buried their pharaohs with containers full of honey to sweeten the afterlife. The antibacterial and antiseptic properties of honey have made it as important to the apothecary as the chef over the centuries, while beeswax embalmed the dead and created artificial light. In the 15th century, the pilgrim fathers took their honeybees with them to spread their farming practices and colonise the new world.

Hbee-3298372_1920oney is one of the foods which have religious significance. Buddhists in India and Bangladesh celebrate a festival called ‘Madhu Purnima’ by giving bee’s honey to monks. This is to commemorate the offering of honey by a monkey to Lord Buddha when he retreated to wilderness due to a dispute among his disciples. Hindus consider bee’s honey as one of the five elixirs of immortality (Panchamruta). Honey is poured over the statues of deities in a ritual called ‘Madhu Abhisheka’. In Jewish tradition, honey is the symbol of New Year, ‘Rosh Hashana’. Traditionally slices of apples dipped in honey are eaten to bring a sweet new year. In Islam, Prophet Mohammad strongly recommended honey for healing purposes and Quran promotes it as a nutritious and healthy food.

Honey bees are the world’s most important single species of pollinator in natural ecosystems and a key contributor to natural ecosystem functions. Bees are essential not only for their honey and beeswax but, more importantly, for their roles in food production for humanity’s benefit. Bees are industrious pollinators because they have co-evolved with flowering plants over millions of years. The bees need the flowers for food, while the flower needs the bee to reproduce. Unlike other insects, nectar and pollen from flowering plants are bees’ only food source; the sweet nectar drink gives adult bees energy. Bees feed on pollen and nectar produced by plants. Female bees collect pollen to feed their larvae, storing it in pollen baskets in their legs or on branched hairs on their body. As they go from flower to flower they inevitably lose some of the pollen they have collected. Some of this pollen may land on the female parts of other flowers of the same species, resulting in cross-pollination. Honey bees are the important components because of agro-ecosystem as they provide free ecosystem services in the form of pollination which not only enhance the productivity of agricultural crops but also help in conservation of biological diversity through propagation of wild flora besides, providing honey and other hive products. There is a direct connection between the bees pollinating the crops and our ability to provide food for our families. Many of our food crops for both man and animals depend on bees for pollination.

Most pollination in large-scale agriculture is dependent on managed colonies of a single species, the honey bee Apis mellifera. Honeybees require continuous and variant nectar and pollen floral resources to supply their physiological needs. Nectar and pollen nutritional quality varies widely among host-plant species, which in turn influences how bees forage to obtain their nutritionally appropriate diets. Over one-third of our food supply relies upon them for pollination services and we know that pollination is essential for the reproduction of the plants the bees service.

Honeybees have a lot to offer in terms of agricultural products and ecosystem services. However, bees are exposed to a number of threats such as climate change, reduced biodiversity, and invasive species that reduce their quality of health and longevity. The habitat that wild bees depend on to nest and forage is increasingly disappearing due to modern farming practices and urbanisation. There are in substantial decline worldwide, leading to serious threat to the stability and yield of food crops.

Beekeeping is of pivotal importance, combining the wide economical aspect of honey production and the important ecological services provided by honeybees. If the honey bee does not pollinate the crops, the crops do not grow and produce the food that gets harvested and brought to the store where we buy it and bring it home to feed ourselves and our families. The disappearance of honeybees, or even a substantial drop in their population, would make some foods scarce. Honeybees are critically important for the environment and to the economy. Just as much as bees have a role in ensuring the survival of humanity, we also have roles in ensuring their survival.  This way, we can ensure that the symbiotic relationship we have with bees will endure for many more generations. If honeybees disappear for good, humans would probably suffer tremendously. The variety of foods available would diminish, and the cost of certain products would surge.

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