JANUARY
1995

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

01-12-95

Honey Hunters Have Raided Nests For Eons

Humans have recognized for eons that honey is as good a food for them as it is for the bees that made it.

There are several references to honey consumption in the Bible. For instance, John the Baptist, while he was wandering in the wilderness, consumed wild honey. Samson once robbed a bee colony of enough honey for a snack when he and his parents were traveling along the road to Timnath.

No one really knows how long ago humans began consuming honey, but it was no doubt long before John the Baptist and Samson walked the earth. A painting, estimated to be about 7,000 years old, on the walls of a rock shelter in eastern Spain near Valencia clearly depicts a person gathering honey.

The earliest collection of honey probably involved robbing the nests bees had constructed in hollow trees or rock crevices. A necessary preliminary to such thievery was the discovery of the nest. It is reasonable to assume that ancient humans actively searched for the nests of bees in much the same way they might have hunted animals or looked for fruiting plants.

Bee hunting is still practiced in some parts of the world, and was common in the United States as recently as the 1940s. Observing the flight direction of bees moving in and out of patches of flowers is helpful in locating the general vicinity of the nest. Finding the exact location is sometimes more difficult. As an aid to locating the nest site, bee hunters have sometimes resorted to using a white powder such as flour to dust bees caught visiting flowers. The idea is that the marked bees then will leave some of the powder on the entrance of the nest, such as a hole in a tree, making it easier to see.

Humans aren't the only animals that have a sweet tooth. A number of creatures are known to eat honey when the opportunity arises. Bears are widely recognized as honey eaters and will actively seek bee nests in order to rob them.

One of the most interesting of the honey-eating animals is a bird. There is a small, plainly colored African bird named the honey guide. This bird got its name because it leads humans or other animals to bee nests. The honey guide bird gets its reward by sharing in the honey exposed when the creature it lead to the spot tears into the bee nest.

Bees don't store honey for the benefit of the rest of the animal kingdom, and they don't share willingly the fruits of their labor. We humans and other animals that would have a little taste of honey no doubt discovered very quickly, as this ancient proverb states:  “He who would gather honey must bear the sting of the bees.”

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann