Images courtesy of USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

To be, we need the bee

The polarising, magnified truth of the bee.

Bees – the small insects who pollinate the planet day-in and day-out, playing the vital role in our food-chain. The world has been fascinated by them for centuries and yet today we are faced with the consequences of the ignorance of our modern society. As much as 40% of bee colonies died in 2017 in the US alone  from pesticides, the mono-agriculture food deserts and the environmental changes. But I don’t want to go on a rant and bore you; instead, I would like to speak a little more about the cultural and environmental significance of bees in the modern society as well as its not-so-recent past. 

The Royal emblem and inspiration.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At his coronation in 1804, Napoleon I appeared dressed in an embroidered coat of 1500 golden bees. The insect became the emblem of the Empire, replacing the fleur-de-lis – the insignia of the previous monarchy in pre-revolutionary France. It is believed that a bee had been associated with the notions of resurrection and divine. Additionally, at the time it was believed that the bee represented the hard-working citizens who worked in their youth to secure their future. In other words, the bee represents planning, labour, obedience, order and resilience-the qualities that seemed to have inspired Napoleon I. 

The bees of Childeric I

Symbolic of the industrious activity of the French, the bee had soon become imperial insignia. Fun fact:  the bee first appeared in France under one of the ancient sovereigns of Franks – King Childeric I. It was a pair of golden jewels in the shape of bees.

The bee in the modern culture.

Fast-forward to today and the bee is back in the french culture; from the exquisite knives of Laguiole to the excessive use of a golden bee in collections and communication materials of Christian Dior. In Paris, there is a strong bee-keeping culture. The insects are often kept on the roofs of the monuments, such as Les Abeilles de Notre Dame de Paris , while Le Jardin du Luxembourg on La Rive Gauche hosts the oldest beekeeping school on the planet. It was founded in 1856. 

Image courtesy of Dior.

The current situation.

With all this buzz around the bees, one would think that they’d reign supreme; however, it is not the case and the colonies are dying faster than we realise. Beekeepers have been losing their little residents at alarming rates, while the almond industry has grown so large, that the insects have to be transported to and from the almond fields. This process gravely disturbs the ecosystem and the natural balance of the vast areas across the world.

With the increasing use of pesticides in agriculture, the bees also become the victims of poisonous chemicals often dying as a result from being contaminated while doing their everyday pollinating chores.  If these trends continue, we might be looking into a very dark future with only the bee emblems and the jewellery to admire. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So what can we do? How can we stop this trend? One of the simplest ways is planting flowers. Yes, all we have to do is plant flowers that are native and useful for the bees. In Paris, for example, La Mairie had already been able to set up 700 beehives [link in French] in the city alone. It also encourages Parisians to plant flowers on their balconies and terraces. Perhaps, there is something similar in your home town. 

In the end, I must stress that it is vital for us to understand this issue and do our part. In other words, we should be more like the bees. We must act like a society that works together to reach our common goal. In this case, saving our little pollinating friends. After all, when bees have access to good nutrition, we have access to good nutrition as well. 

Title and slideshow images are courtesy of USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab