It's the month of the flowers ("Mayo,
el mes de las flores," as we say in Spain).
This is the richest and most exuberant month
of the year for plants and for Nature in general in the Northern
Here, in the Balearic Islands, this phenomenal
explosion of life can start one or two weeks earlier because
of our weather conditions.
It may be interesting to remember why this
particular time of the year, when Nature shows most of its
splendid and colourful power is called May.
"May", "Mayo", "Mai",
"Mai" or "Maggio" is how this month is
called in European languages and the Occidental cultures with
Latin and previously Greek roots to honour the Greek goddess
of Nature, "Maya". It seems to be obvious why they
chose this particular thirty-one days period for it.
"Die Biene Maja" (Maya, the bee),
was also, as some readers will remember, the name for a German
television cartoon series in the middle and late 1970s that
was very successful with children (and some grownups) in all
the countries where it was transmitted. In Spain, an entire
generation grew up and learned to love Nature singing the
melody of "La abeja Maya"; one of the first and
still one of the best for the youngest children's environmental
The month of the flowers is also good news
for the other potent symbol of Nature, the honeybee, which
lives within a perfect symbiosis with the sexual organs of
plants. Bees couldn't live without them, and plants in general
would be far less successful in their multiplication without
this amazing and laborious insect.
Bee-keeping or "Apiculture" is,
according to some historians, one of the earliest activities
that man learned to profit from animals without having to
kill them. Apiculture was already practised in its most simple
way, just collecting the honey from the natural hives, in
We don't know who was the first man or people
that could collect the swarms and keep them in hives made
by man for this purpose, using for it all kinds of different
materials, straw, osier, clay, cork, wood and even metal.
In Roman times, the artificial hives were then installed near
by, for a better control of the bees and a large profit from
Ovidio, the Latin poet, says it was "Baco"
the Roman "Dionisos", god of the wine and the good
table (and from what they say, the after-dinner-parties as
well), the first one to know of the art of collecting honey.
Plinio the Old, the Roman naturalist, wrote
that it was "Aristeo" son of "Apollo"
who taught the science of Apiculture to the humans. Also Virgilio,
the poet, philosopher and naturalist, wrote in his "Georgicas"
(C. IV) the legend of Aristeo and the bees, as well as some
of the concepts and ideas about bees that were the basis for
the modern development of this science, only just a hundred
and fifty years ago, but still going on in traditional ways
in some parts of the world.
The first laws concerning bees and Apiculture
that we know of were written in the year 620 BC, by Solon,
from Athens, one of the seven Greek "Wise Men".
In the year 420 BC, Pericles wrote of 20,000 hives in Attic,
and Apiculture was also taught by Aristotle in his writings,
almost a century later.
Even before, there are records of this industry
found in ancient tombs of China, Persia and especially in
the Old Egypt that proves already a large knowledge of this
science, with hive systems, objects and tools still used in
some parts, such as Crete and other Mediterranean islands,
In March this year, we had the visit to
our Islands of the biologist professor Antonio Gomez Pajuelo,
a real expert in Apiculture, who runs an industry and school
concerning this science in Caltellón (País Valanciá).
He came to give a three-day course about
modern Apiculture to our beekeepers, especially about the
profit of the pollen and "propoleos", bee products
that are gaining day by day more importance in the market,
but never been properly developed by our amateur bee-lovers.
(We will speak about the bee products in the following articles).
It was he, together with the president of
the local beekeepers association, Sr. Antonio Peinado, who
asked our authorities for help to preserve the local ancestral
way of bee keeping, for its cultural and anthropological interest.
Eivissa is one of the few places (along with the island of
Crete and some parts of Aragón, in the Spanish Pirineos,
where we can still see this type of Apiculture) that he considers
to be originally from the Old Egypt, not less then 4,400 years
There is still a lot to be known about bees,
especially in terms of classification of the amount of families
and genes that exist, but obviously this is not the purpose
of these articles. We can say that there are two main groups
of these hymenopteron, "clistogastros" apidae insects
(two pairs of membranous wings, the thorax and the abdomen
joined by a very thin waist), the ones that live alone and
the social ones.
The first is the most plentiful group. They
collect pollen and nectar and some also can produce honey,
but as they don't live in community it's impossible to profit
its production and man does not exploit them, though they
do a very good job with plant pollination.
There are three families of the second group, "Meliponidos", normally much smaller then the common
bee and without the sting. More then 300 species of this family
produce honey. "Bombidos", this is the family of
the cockchafer, big and pretty, with a much longer horn, they
can reach flowers that normal bees don't reach, so they are
very important for pollination of some plants. Finally the
"Apidae" family, to which belongs our common honey-bee
"Apis melliphera" and all its varieties, as I'm
reading now in my encyclopaedia, probably the oldest known
domestic animal of all.
(To be continued)
A Bee Collecting Pollen
Raw Produces from Bees
Honey from Bees
José P Ribas