The honey-bee is one of our best known insects, whose relationship with humans can be traced back to the dawn of humankind when early people ‘stole’ honey from wild bee nests. Cave paintings in Spain from as long ago as 6000 bc show our ancestors taking honey from bees, which surely indicates that beekeeping is at least as old as the other two oldest professions!

              By the time humans did come on the scene, the honey-bee had already been around for about 40–50 million years or more – it had evolved from its hunting-wasp ancestors and had become a strict vegetarian. Bees and flowering plants then evolved with each other in a truly remarkable relationship that changed and coloured the world we live in. This evolutionary symbiotic relationship is probably the most important reason why our world looks like it does today, and still the vital work of bees goes on. It is a sobering thought that, if all humans were to be wiped out, the world would probably revert to the rich, ecologically balanced state that existed some 10,000 years ago. On the other hand, if bees and other pollinating insects were to be wiped out, humans and other animals would not last for long.


                 Bees pollinate plants so that plants can reproduce, and that really is the bottom line. That is what bees are all about. That is why we need bees and that is why hundreds of millions of dollars, pounds and euros are spent annually by governments around the globe in protecting bees, in bee research and in beekeeping subsidies of one type or another. Because of their pollinating activities, honey-bees are the most economically important insects on earth, and certainly the most studied. Honey production is essentially a side issue. The honey-bee’s role – and thus the beekeeper’s role – in this becomes more important and valuable by the day as our farming and other practices dramatically eradicate the habitats of other types of bees and pollinating insects. Some insects can exist only by eating the pollen of certain plants. If those plants were removed so that more crops could be planted, bees and other pollinating insects would die out. What, then, would pollinate our huge areas of mono-crops? The answer would be to truck in honey-bees by the million. Pollination can be achieved only by using large numbers of honey-bees. In this way, our crops and wildflowers are pollinated, and the beekeeper can obtain a pollination fee and honey for sale. As a reward for pollination, and as an enticement to the bee, most plants offer food – nectar – in return. The bees take this, alter it through the addition of enzymes, reduce its moisture content and store it as honey so that they and their colony may survive winter periods or other periods of dearth. In this way they differ from wasps, bumble-bees and other types of bee, whose colonies die out on the approach of winter, with only the newly mated queens hibernating until the spring when they will start new colonies.