Below is an entry from “The Herder Symbol Dictionary” on what the humble honey bee signifies. Then follows an article about the possible extinction of the honey bee.
I believe that events in life may also be symbolic of portending events. OK, I’m talking about omens and signs. Now, if honey bees face extinction, what does it mean for us?
It is an insect that primarily symbolizes diligence, social organization, and cleanliness (since it avoids everything dirty and lives from the fragrance of flowers).
In Chaldea and imperial France, the bee was a regal symbol (for a long time the queen bee was thought to be a king); it is possible that the fleur-de-lis of the House of Bourbon developed from the bee symbol.
In Egypt the bee and the sun were associated, and the bee was considered to be a symbol of the soul.
In Greece it was considered a priestly creature (the priestesses of Eleusis and Ephesus were called bees, probably with reference to the virginity of the worker bees).
The bee, which appears to die in winter and return in spring, is sometimes a symbol of death and rebirth (e.g., of Persephone, Christ).
Because of its untiring work, the bee is a Christian symbol of hope. For Bernard of Clairvaux the bee signifies the Holy Ghost. The bee is a Christ symbol as well. Its HONEY represents Christ’s gentleness and compassion; its stinger symbolizes Christ as judge of the world.
Since according to ancient tradition bees do not hatch their own young but collect them from blossoms, bees were symbols in the Middle Ages of the Immaculate Conception.
The bee is also symbolic of honey-sweet eloquence, intelligence, and poetry.
Albert Einstein once predicted that if bees were to disappear, man would follow only a few years later.
That hypothesis could soon be put to the test, as a mysterious condition that has wiped half of the honey bee population the United States over the last 35 years appears to be repeating itself in Europe.
Experts are at a loss to explain the fall in honey bee populations in America, with fears of that a new disease, the effects of pollution or the increased use of pesticides could be to blame for “colony collapse disorder”. From 1971 to 2006 approximately one half of the US honey bee colonies have vanished.
Now in Spain, hundreds of thousands of colonies have been lost and beekeepers in northern Croatia estimated that five million bees had died in just 48 hours this week. In Poland, the Swietokrzyskie beekeeper association has estimated that up to 40 per cent of bees were wiped out last year. Greece, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal have also reported heavy losses.
The depopulation of bees could have a huge impact on the environment, which is reliant on the insects for pollination. If taken to the extreme, crops, fodder – and therefore livestock – could die off if there are no pollinating insects left.
In France in 2004, the government banned the pesticide Fipronil after beekeepers in the south-west blamed it for huge losses of hives. The manufacturers denied their products were harmful to bees. Polish beekeeper associations claimed that the losses in their country could be connected to cheap sugar substitutes used in mass honey production.
However, experts at the largest honey bee health company in the world, Vita, based in Basingstoke, said the cause was still unknown, and therefore neither was the cure.
The company’s technical director, Dr Max Watkins, said: “If it turns out to be a disease we will probably find a cure. But if it turns out to be something different, like environmental pollution, then I do not know what can be done.
“At the moment, all we know is colonies are dying and we simply don’t know why. It could be a new disease or a combination of factors. And of course it could turn out what we are seeing here in Europe is different to what has been reported in America, although at the moment they look very, very similar.”
Dennis van Engelsdorp, of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said: “Preliminary work has identified several likely factors that could be causing or contributing to CCD. Among them are mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning.”
Initial studies of dying colonies in America revealed a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit, van Engelsdorp added.
German bee expert Professor Joergen Tautz from Wurzburg University said: “Bees are vital to bio diversity. There are 130,000 plants for example for which bees are essential to pollination, from melons to pumpkins, raspberries and all kind of fruit trees – as well as animal fodder – like clover.
“Bees are more important than poultry in terms of human nutrition. Bees from one hive can visit a million flowers within a 400 square kilometre area in just one day.
“It is not a sudden problem, I has been happening for a few years now. Five years ago in Germany there were a million hives, now there are less than 800,000. If that continues there will eventually be no bees.”
“Bees are not only working for our welfare, they are also perfect indicators of the state of the environment. We should take note.”
By Michael Leidig in Vienna