Environment

They sure create a buzz

BangaloREsident Sebastian Marokko Walter spoke to a cross-section of society to know their thoughts on honey bees. He got only one predictable response: people are afraid of them. Sebastian worked in the lab of Dr Axel Brockmann at the National Centre For Biological Sciences (NCBS). The outcome of his research was an exhibition, displayed last month at NCBS.

The exhibition resembled that of a beehive. Against a soundscape of the buzz of honey bees, was a series of drawings, installations and video displays. On one wall there were drawings by adults and children of honey bees based on their perception. “What interested me was what the kind of images come to mind when you think of bees,” says Sebastian, who interviewed common people, the administrative staff at NCBS, labourers and construction workers to understand the relationship humans have with honey bees. “In Germany there is only one species of honey bee,” informs Sebastian, “It is called Apis Mellifera.” In India, he says, there are the Apis Cerana Indica, the Apis Florea (dwarf honey bees), and the Apis Dorsata (giant honey bees).

Sebastian studied art pedagogics and liberal arts at the State Academy of Art and Design Stuttgart and biology at the University of Hohenheim. Since 2016, he has been studying stone-age depictions of animals from Northern Mesopotamia at The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin. “The depictions were on the first human temple that had high pillars with images of animals and one of these was of the honey bee, which is probably the oldest known depictions of honey bees.”

The research also led to a book by him on honey bees in Bengaluru with photographs, drawings, interviews, and news reports. Dr Axel Brockmann shed light on the nature and behaviours of honey bees. “I am interested in how the brain of the honey bee works. The major paradigm is training a honey bee to a feeder,”

“The paradigm is 100-years-old and it’s based on natural behaviour of honey bees is that they stay with a food source as long as it provides food. That means honey bee forager is collecting for the food stores in the colony. Because they always stay with one food source that is why we can train them to a feeder and for the experiment it gives a chance to ask the honey bee ‘questions’ so to speak, like a psychological test. My lab is using molecular tools and we can look at gene expressions in the brain.”

Honey bees, he says, originates in tropical Asia, where there are about 11 or 12 species. “There’s just one species in Europe and America. The European population has been transported all over the world. There are 20,000 species of bees, there are 200 social bees and we are talking about one group that’s called honey bees and there are 13 different species.”

The European-African species, he adds, can be kept in boxes. “And if they can be kept in boxes, they can be transported.” Honey bees are also crucial for industrial food production in America. “Biologically there was no honey bee in the US. Honey bees are imported.”

In India too, the Apis Mellifera has been introduced

“The other honey bee species Indians know of are Apis Dorsata. Those are the ones that nest in the balconies of high-rise buildings. The problem is they fly in the night to light and are considered as pests in Bengaluru. Pest control is called to kill them. They either burn them or spray poison. Because of the worldwide decline honey bees, in Germany they have became a symbol for positive interaction with the environment. In India the issues are different.” Dr. Brockmann says there are other humane ways to deal with the giant honey bees. “You can smoke the colony and cut the comb, and by cutting the comb you take their nest away, they come back for one or two days and then they go away. That’s better than killing them.Killing them is not a solution because you will have the same problem after the monsoons. You have to think long term and and one has to prevent them from nesting. If they found places naturally they would attach to trees, banyan trees, for example.”

Dr. Brockmann says the person he has met who has true expertise is a local bee keeper: “I am working with a bee keeper here and he is a simple, educated, only Kannada speaking person. I have only one Kannada speaking student who enables interaction between the bee keeper and me,” he concludes.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 6:31:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/they-sure-create-a-buzz/article20568110.ece

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