Lessons from the Honeybee

Warren Lee
Feast of Tabernacles - Seaside, Oregon
Day 3
October 3, 2012

To view Warren's accompanying slide show, please click HERE

The presentation that we are going to talk about today is called “Lessons from the Honeybee.” 

I chose to focus on another one of God’s great creatures so that we can learn more about bees, about ourselves and, ultimately, about God and what an amazing Creator He is.  He has not only created all of the animals, insects and plants in nature for our benefit, but also He has given them to us to teach us about Himself:

Job 12 (Message Translation):
7:  But ask the animals what they think — let them teach you; let the birds tell you what's going on. 
8:  Put your ear to the earth — learn the basics.  Listen — the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. 
9:  Isn't it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that He holds all things in His hand — 
10:  Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature? 

No matter from what part of His creation – animals, insects, fish, or even the earth itself – God makes it clear that He is supreme and that He rules over all things. 

When we think of bees, this may be what we think of… being stung!  This may have happened to you or to someone you know.  In fact, your Nana got stung this summer rolling in clover!  Let me clarify that!  It was when we were playing a game of Rounders!  

But this is a very rare occurrence for a honeybee.  It stings only as a last resort.  In fact, only Worker Bees sting; and then only if they feel threatened.  After they sting, they die.  Queen Bees have stingers; but they don't leave the hive to help defend it. 

The honey bee has been called "the most important insect in the world."  Have you ever heard that before?  If not, let me tell you why.  The honey bee has been one of the most studied creatures in all of nature.  The only creatures studied more than the honey bee are us – people.

It is hard to imagine what our lives would be like if there were no bees.  A honey bee is an insect that we do not usually see on a day-to-day basis, unless we are involved in bee-keeping.  The honey bee is the most important insect in the world, because without them we would not eat. 

It is estimated that bees are responsible for 80% of the pollination of all flowers and plants.  The other 20% is taken care of by other little insects that do pollination.  Bees pollinate some ninety different crops.  When you sit down to eat a meal, one out of every third bite that you eat, is a result of bee pollination.

When we think of beef coming from cows, this might be a scary concept for some of the younger children if they have not realized where beef comes from.  The alfalfa that naturally-raised cattle eat is pollinated by bees.  Many of the plants that other animals eat are pollinated by bees. 

Also, the honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.  Does anybody know what that food is?  The name of the bee might be a clue. Yes, honey!

Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals and water. 

Let me give you some interesting facts about the Honey bee: 
They have six legs, two compound eyes made up of thousands of tiny lenses (one eye on each side of the head), three "simple" eyes on the top of their heads, two pairs of wings, a nectar pouch and a stomach. 

Honey bees have a really good sense of smell.  They have 170 "receptors" or noses.  Can you imagine having 170 noses on your face?  (There are only 62 in fruit flies and 79 in mosquitoes).  They can smell the bee next to them, and they can tell whether that bee is their brother or sister.  Can you do that with your brother and sister?

The honey bee's wings stroke incredibly fast at about 200 beats per second, thus making their famous, distinctive "buzz."  A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour. 

Bees are like people in that they are very social creatures.  In the hive there are many different types of bees.  Just like your own family in which you have a Dad and a Mom who perform certain jobs in the family that you do not.  As most of you are younger, you too have jobs in your family.  Maybe you take out the garbage or recycling, do the dishes, fold laundry.  Maybe now you already have to keep your room tidy and neat.  Maybe your Dad cuts the grass and your Mom prepares dinner or does the grocery shopping. 

Let’s think of a bee colony as one big family.  A bee colony can be anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 honey bees and one queen. 
Inside the colony there are "worker" honey bees which are all female and only live for about six weeks and do all the work.  They literally work themselves to death!  

The queen bee can live up to five years.  She is the only bee that lays eggs.  She is busiest in the summer months when the hive needs to be at its maximum.  She can lay up to 2,500 eggs per day.  There are other bees called "nurse" bees; and their only job is feed the queen bee.  How much they feed her depends on how many eggs she lays.  They control the population of the hive; and the more that they feed her, the more eggs she lays.

Also in the colony are the male honey bees.  They are called "drones."  They have no stinger and they do no work at all.  All the male honey bees do is mate!

Can you imagine having 80,000 people living under the same roof?  We might think that the hive might be a hectic place and would have many problems… like running in the hallway, or fighting with siblings, not picking up toys... but bees do not have toys!  In fact, the bee colony is a highly organized little city. 

Here are some of the different types of bees that live in the bee colony:
- Scout bees
- Nurse bees
- Worker bees
- Drone bees
- Guard bees
- Queen bee

Each honey bee colony has a unique odour for the identification of the colony's members.  Guard bees protect the hive from intruders whether wasps trying to steal honey or more innocent bystanders like caterpillars. 

With 80,000 bees, another important aspect in the bee-hive is sanitation.  The sanitation squads are always at work and always getting rid of anything that doesn’t need to be there.  This is done in order to keep the hive free from any health problem or disease in the colony.  Believe it or not, God is this way too.  He wants us to live in a similar manner as His.  Everything that He does is done decently and in order.

The hive is not only cleaned; but it is air conditioned too!  The larvae will die if the temperature in the incubation brood area drops below 90 degrees Fahrenheit or exceeds 97 degrees.  Sensing organs on the antennae of the bee can detect a change of half a degree.  If the temperature drops, the bees put honey on their bodies; and this honey is quickly converted into heat. All those little bees huddled together provide a blanket of warm air for all of the bees in the hive.  This is how bees stay warm in the winter.

When the temperature soars and it gets too hot, the bees fly out to all of the water streams around the hive, they suck up water and bring it back into the hive.  Then they fan their wings a hundred times a second; and this creates wind currents which then evaporate the water, causing the temperature inside the hive to come down.  They position themselves to control the movement of the air.  In at one side and out at the other side.

The next amazing thing about honey bees is that they know how to dance!  But their dance is very, very important.  Honey bees need food; and when a honey bee finds a food source – nectar – he comes back to the hive.  But the bee doesn’t go back and say, “Follow me; let’s fly!”  Rather, he does an elaborate dance which is the "language" of the bee.  Just as we speak words, the bee speaks by this special dance.  The scout bee reveals the kind of nectar that she has found by passing out samples to others.  The waggle is the important part of the dance – because how much she shakes it and how fast she shakes it tells the others how good the nectar is.  The more vigorous the side-to-side movement is, the higher is the quality of the food source.

Also, they can dance in different directions.  When a scout bee dances straight up on the honeycomb, she is telling the other bees that they too can find food by flying directly towards the sun.  If a scout bee dances straight down on the honeycomb, she is telling the other bees that they can find food by flying away from the sun.  If the bee varies the angle in the dance the scout bee indicates a food source in any direction.

We don’t find our way around by giving directions like this.  Could you imagine asking someone for directions and they described the right way by where the sun is?  We don’t say, “To get to the beach, walk directly towards the sun," or "To get to Dairy Queen, walk 45 degrees to the left of the sun," or "To get to McDonald’s, walk directly away from the sun.”  This would also be dependent on the time of day, of course.  The directions would change from early morning to late afternoon.  What happens when it is night-time?  The bees don’t fly at night to get food. 

How can a bee give directions in relation to the sun?  God created the bee to have a built-in compass that is built directly into her compound eye.  It is like a car's GPS.

The bee's brain is oval in shape and only about the size of a sesame seed; yet it has the remarkable capacity to learn and remember things, and is able to make complex calculations on distance travelled and foraging efficiency. 

The other key factor in the bee's "waggle dance" is the distance to the food source.  The length of time spent on the waggle and the number of pulses of sound emitted in each buzz tell the others how far away it is.

The scout bee not only tells the quality of the food, he also tells the direction of how to get there and the distance to the food source.  Yet, more than simple distance is involved here, because a bee normally flies about 15 miles per hour.  Her ground speed varies according to the direction and speed of the wind.  If you run into the wind, it takes more energy; but if the wind is behind you, you feel like you can run for ever, and so fast.

An experiment was performed in which they took three bees and painted symbols on each of them: a dot, a line, or a cross.  Then they put out food sources in feeders in three different areas:
- The scout bee that arrived at Feeder number 1 was marked with a yellow dot on its back.
- The scout bee that arrived at Feeder number 2 was marked with a yellow line on its back.
- The scout bee that arrived at Feeder number 3 was marked with a yellow cross on its back.

In a matter of minutes, the marked bees arrived back at the hive and they were sharing the information about the food source they had just found.  The bees they were "talking to" in their areas of the hive were marked with the same markings as their scout bee; but in a different color.

Guess what happened next?  
Only the bees with dots visited Feeder number 1.
Only the bees with lines visited Feeder number 2.
Only the bees with crosses visited Feeder number 3.

In all three cases, the bees only visited the feeders they were "told" about!

This is really amazing, and it gets very interesting.  God designed this ability into the bee.  

You might think that by leaving the hive, going and finding nectar, you would want to take with you a full load of nectar-fuel in your own body.  Similarly, when you left home to come to the Feast, you probably gassed your vehicle up with a full tank.  The scientists, after examining the stomach content of the bees found that they only take enough fuel in their pouch to work the flowers they are "told" about.  To carry more than they need would deplete the honey reserves of the hive and would cut down on the amount of nectar they could bring back.  This is serious business for the bee!  If the bee runs out of fuel before reaching its flower source, it will die. 

Sometimes you might be out on your lawn and you may see bees walking on the grass.  If you try to pick one up he will not sting you.  If you hold it up on your finger it may not be able to fly.  It doesn’t have the energy to fly because it ran out of its fuel source. The best thing you could do for it is to pick it up and put it on a flower. Then he can get more nectar and fly back to the hive.

What is so amazing about this is that bees stake their lives on the accuracy of the information they have been given.  And God has designed it so that it really does work just about flawlessly!

For those of you who fasted on the Day of Atonement, you quickly realized that food is vital to your survival.  When we fast, we run out of energy and are not able to do the things that we do every day.

Again, bees stake their lives on the accuracy of the information that they have been given and, again, the system really works.  

Similarly, your parents do this as well, staking their lives on the accuracy of the information that they have been given.  They believe that God’s way works.  God tells us to read and study His Word every day.  Your Mom and Dad, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles cannot study the Bible for many hours on just one day and then not pick it up for a week or more.  They would be spiritually starving themselves!

Does this apply to you young people too?  It certainly does!  You too need to say your prayers and you need to learn age-appropriate Bible lessons.  As parents, it is our job to teach you about God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Believe me, there is much in the Bible for you.  If you don’t get anything else out of this presentation, please just take away this one verse:

Proverbs 3:5 (ESV):
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

It is interesting that the honeycomb cells are not circular or square;  the bees build a six-sided shape called a "hexagon."  Amazingly this is the most efficient shape for them.  There is no space wasted and it is the perfect shape for maximum storage space and strength.

The DVD that I watched on this subject was first published in the 1950’s.  At that time, 247 million pounds of honey per year was harvested in the United States alone.  The bees actually use twice that amount themselves to make the honey.  This means that in that year, the bees sought out, sucked up, transported, and processed 1.5 billion pounds of nectar.  Converted into honey, this would fill 41 million cases of honey and make a stack about 8,000 miles high.  

That was in 1950.  I went on the Internet last night and looked for the most recent figures.  As of July 2012, the United States exported only 1.5 million pounds of honey and imported 29 million pounds of honey from many nations around the world.  Just sixty-two years later, this is only 1/10th of what this nation produced in 1950.

As we are here keeping the Feast of Tabernacles picturing the start of the Kingdom of God on earth, that Kingdom as the Bible describes it, will be "a land flowing with milk and honey," as it is referred to in scripture.  What does this mean?  Firstly, it means that the bees will be doing their jobs; but it is also a sign of abundance.  No one in the Kingdom of God will ever be hungry:

Deuteronomy 8:
8:  A land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 
9: A land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 
10:  When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.

The next time you see a honey bee in action, please remember how incredible they are.  But even more importantly, remember that our great God put them here not only for the physical food benefit that we get from them; but our spiritual benefit too; that we can know Him, appreciate Him and His love for us.  This should make us smile a smile of happiness.