Bees’ democracy should inspire us

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Bees’ democracy should inspire us


Just when I thought spring had arrived, it’s already summer. Truth be told, spring may disappear altogether from the Korean Peninsula. Animals and plants must be having a hard time getting accustomed to the seasonal changes. Not so long ago, people complained about delayed flower blossoms, but now the flowers are already long gone.

When I was in elementary school, I poked a beehive and was stung badly. Traumatized by the event, I am still afraid of bees. But bee farmers say that it is rare for the bees to sting people since they die after using their stingers. Stinging is a noble sacrifice to protect the family from intruders.

But now they have other problems. Oh Man-gyu, vice president of the Korea Beekeeping Association, says that bee farming is getting harder because of climate change. Indigenous bees are especially sensitive to climate change, and 90 percent have died in the last two years. Bees’ adaptability and immunity have fallen drastically as winter lasts longer and spring becomes shorter.

Western species raised in commercial hives are barely surviving thanks to efforts by bee farmers, but if the climate changes get worse, the beekeeping industry may suffer serious damages.

Bees are social creatures and live in systematic colonies with a queen who lays eggs, workers who gather nectar and pollen, and males who mate with the queen.

Thomas Seeley, a biology professor at Cornell University, is fascinated by beehives and authored “Honeybee Democracy.” He says that a colony of tens of thousands of bees is an autonomous living unit that functions as an integrated community.

According to Seeley, the way honeybees decide when and where to move their colonies is a model democratic process. When the time comes to split the hive, hundreds of bees are sent out to scout for information on candidate sites. The bees that come back with information do a dance to tell others about what they have found. Through communication and discussion, they determine the most suitable relocation site unanimously.

Frankly, I am not sure if we, humans, could do the same. We fight so often that logic doesn’t matter and unanimous decisions are nearly out of the question. We need to learn from the honeybees.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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