Tuesday, April 22, 2014

There are bees, and then there are BEES!

Today, my boy informed me in no uncertain terms that I couldn't go to work BECAUSE OF THE BEES and instead should stay home and play.

Good advice, though I doubt my boss would buy what he's selling.

In any case, he's been a bit obsessed with bees lately because we took him strawberry picking a couple of weeks ago, and the lady who took our group to the assigned greenhouse made a big point of telling us that the cardboard box in the middle [1] was FULL OF BEES [2] and that if we disturbed it or swatted away any bees we might see we would be horribly stung [3], and probably die.[4]  

Seriously, rather than pointing out that the bees had to be there to ensure we had strawberries to pick and warning us that bees can sting if frightened so we shouldn't bother the hive or molest any bees we see, she chose to make it into a horror story.

I've done my best to undo the damage (bees help make strawberries, they make honey, they won't hurt you unless they think you're trying to hurt them, etc) but I confess my feelings are conflicted:

You see, I live in Japan where not only are there bees, but there are OH BY THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY - BEES!

OK, so they're hornets.  But still, the point is that they're actually dangerous[5].  Not only are they big, stinging insects (legitimately off-putting to any rational human being) but they're actively aggressive and known to not only attack but also kill people.  Look at what a slightly smaller relative sub-species in China did last fall.

Vespa mandarina japonica is, I believe, the largest of the bunch, and they are the target of quite intense public safety efforts when they're found in inhabited areas, particularly if those areas are near schools or other places where children play outside.  All through the warm months they forage voraciously, and when new queens reach maturity they set off to find places to nest, and little cracks and holes in the eaves of houses are notoriously popular.  Any area with a number of uninhabited houses will make local authorities nervous - with no one to notice when these monsters are taking an interest, there's no telling how big a nest might get before it's detected - and eliminating a nest of hundreds is a major undertaking requiring serious equipment.

Anyway, thus my conflicted feelings.

On the one hand, I would like him to see videos like this one and say "cool!" rather than have nightmares.

On the other hand, he's too young to really understand that some bees are OK to watch and others demand a quick retreat to safety.

To make things even more tricky?  A history of bee sting allergy in the family.

Though honestly, after getting injected with a cocktail of haemolytic and neurotoxic venom by a hornet this size allergies are not an issue.  Single stings have been known to kill, and the best case scenario is that the sting will feel like a hot nail being driven into your flesh. [6]

Yeah, I'm happy to class the risk of occasional bee-stings as part of growing up, but the risk of having a hot nail driven into you and then dying is not really something kids should have on their already-busy injury schedule.

So, now to think of ways to explain bees in a bee-friendly way while still instilling a healthy terror of respect for giant hornets.

1.  a portable hive for pollination.  Most Japanese fruit growers don't have the luxury of keeping large numbers of bees, and natural pollination isn't sufficient.  Those with greenhouse operations (strawberries and other berries) often use these portable hives to introduce a captive population into a closed area.  Outdoor operations (apples, pears) typically use collected pollen and do it by hand.  Yes, every year Japanese farmers hire armies of middle-aged women to have sex with trees.  And yet GMOs are banned.

2. Her emphasis.

3. Her words.

4. This exaggeration is all mine.

5. Remember the movie Swarm? Yeah, these bad boys girls make "africanized honey bees" look kind of tame in comparison.

6. No, really, scientific eye-witness account: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/10/1025_021025_GiantHornets.html

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