Talking with Bees

When I studied animal behavior and neuroethology, one of the scientists who sparked my interest was Karl Von Frisch. His research involved the honey bee, Apis melifera. I read through his papers and did some experimenting of my own, and in doing so I gained a great respect for bees. Bees are social, they have intricate communication systems involving chemistry and movement. They navigate using the sun and polarized light.

The introduction to the neuroscience course that I teach includes an appreciation for the inner life of living things. Knowing an animal’s neuroanatomy and behavior can help you to understand something about how they experience the world. It is an exercise in compassion and understanding. 

Every year the bees cooperate in this little lesson by flying through my classroom window and buzzing around the students. There is a little screaming, panicking and hand waving. I calmly ask students to close the shades, all but one window. We close the doors, and find out where the bee is, usually flying around the fluorescent lights. I move everyone out of the way, and turn off the lights. The bee drops to the floor, reorients itself, flies upward, and heads right out the one open window. Students are stunned, and I am grateful that the bee cooperated.

Bees are wired to find a light source that looks like an opening to a hive.  They are intricate sensate organisms with their own kind of interior life. Understanding that gives me the ability to treat them gently.

Knowing your own inner world, your “self”, gives you a window into the interior life of others…empathy. That is where all real love begins. All living things have a perspective. They are not objects but subjects. We all are. That knowledge makes me yearn to step gently through life. It is why I love bees.

15 thoughts on “Talking with Bees

  1. I love this reminder to look more deeply at a subject in order to find compassion. ….my family is afflicted with 2 dogs. The one we wanted and the extra. The one who is always in the garbage, or stealing food and papers off the counter, or sneaking into the basement to relieve himself. I tell myself that he is obviously here to be my teacher. When they were still puppies I tried to get the family to let me find another home for him but they wouldn’t let me. I truly feel I have an albatross around my neck!

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  2. there’s something about bees that is attracting me at the moment – maybe I’m just seeing more of them around – maybe its more than that – but I loved your description of them and how they navigate their way with light – finding their way out of a confusing situation by sitting still, re-orienting and then moving forward towards the light – what a beautiful metaphor to describe the way we can realign ourselves, our sense of purpose 🙂

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    1. and yes – knowing more about our own inner world – conscious and unconscious influences, motivations etc – helps us understand others – empathy, compassion.

      and your words “All living things have a perspective. They are not objects but subjects.” reminded me of some of the things I’m reading in “The Biology of Wonder” by Andreas Weber when he talks of all living things as being active participants in their own lives.

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