I went to the University of Florida's Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab (HBREL) through my environmental science lab last spring. HBREL's mission is to learn more about bees, enhance their health and increase their productivity.
After we were introduced to the lab, we started putting on our bee suits. Even though we were at the point of no return, I had the brilliant idea to ask if bees can sting through the suit. Apparently, they can sting through them and bee suits are mostly there to make you feel safe. At the minimum, it is recommended that people should wear the mask in order to prevent them from crawling around your face and you from swatting at them. Bees only sting you when you make sporadic movements because they think that you are a predator trying to attack them.
Unsurprisingly, learning this did not help my nervousness. Once the man giving us the tour used a smoker to help calm down the bees, he guided us towards the beehives. The closer we got, the louder the buzzing became. After we all gathered around him, he picked up a panel and began pointing out the different types of bees. Female worker bees are in charge of every process in a beehive, besides reproduction, and the male bee's entire purpose is to mate with the queen. If a drone succeeds, they automatically die because their reproductive organs get ripped out of them as the queen departs. While that is crazy, the next fact blew my mind. Multiple larvae are fed royal jelly in order to ensure that a queen is created. If two virgin queens emerge from the hive at the same time, they will exclaim a war cry and then have a battle to the death until there is one queen left.
As we continued to be taught about bees, I noticed that the bees really didn't care about us. The man giving us the tour actually nudged a bee out of the way as he was taking out a new panel, and it acted as nothing happened. Once we got a good look at this panel, we realized that a bee was emerging from the hive for the first time. He proceeded to place it in my hands while explaining that males do not have a stinger at all. I remember thinking about how it felt so light as it dawdled around my hand. I never realized how tiny and fuzzy they were. Suddenly, I felt so much responsibility for this little creature's life. At that moment, my perception of bees changed.
Bees are not trying to hurt people. They are just trying to protect and manage their hive. In a swarm, bees can be intimidating, but their lives are fascinating and individually they are kind of cute. Having said that, we should not let our personal feelings towards bees dictate how we treat them. They do us more of a service than we could ever repay them. They help pollinate the flowers that produce our fruit and put all of the work into making the honey that we harvest. The least we can do is to try to help take care of their populations. We need more beekeepers to do this and more people to plant flowers that attract bees into their gardens. While this may be true, none of that can happen unless people actually care enough to do something about it.