Jun 10, 2011

Samurai bees? What?

Imagine a civilization dominated by altruism. In this society, the individual makes the interests of others his own and essentially cancels himself and his own desires. All that matters in this civilization is the well being of the collective and the one who leads it. Selfishness doesn't exist or is extremely subdued.

The ideal citizen of this civilization has no fear of death. He or she will not hesitate to throw away their lives because they feel dying in the line of duty it is the highest fulfillment of their purpose- to serve.

The literal meaning of the word samurai is: "One who serves in close attendance to the nobility".

What every bee does from the moment it is born until the instant of its death is to serve the hive and the queen.

To serve is the the purpose of both the samurai and the bee.

Off course altruism exists in many other places in nature and in all human societies and eras. It's the special relationship that the samurai had with death that makes them more similar to bees in my opinion. A noble death in feudal japan was a value, something to aspire to. Ritual suicide was a way to redeem lost honor and make up for transgressions. Even the way the samurai committed suicide (seppuku) was similar to the way a bee dies after stinging. Seppuku means "stomach cutting". It's basically self disembowelment. Yes. very gruesome.

When a bee stings a mammal, that is - any creature that has thick elastic skin, Its serrated stinger gets stuck. The bee forcefully tries to extract the stinger after injecting its venom and often tears off part of its abdomen that remains behind, attached to the stinger. The bee essentially commits self disembowelment, much like a samurai.

In the bee world there are some very interesting behaviors that can be seen as expressions of honor towards the shogun of the hive; the queen.

First, a few words about the hierarchy of the hive. There are 3 main bee categories within the common species of honey bee (Apis mellifera):

1. Female worker\soldier - The backbone of the hive. Responsible for all the labor, care of larva and defense duties.

2. Male - The most disposable asset of the hive. Exists only for the sake of breeding with a new queen should one will be born and otherwise does little else to contribute.

3. Queen - Responsible for reproduction of female and male bees. The most guarded asset of every bee family. If a queen dies without being replaced all the bees will disperse and the hive will cease to exist.

In the very rare event that a foreign queen enters a hive other than her own something very interesting happens; the bees will sense that the queen is not their own and is an intruder. They will not sting but surround her in a tight ball and suffocate her to death. It's tempting to think of it as if the bees consider it improper for a regular bee to sting a queen. A dishonorable act.

I've also read that there are cases where bees will push the foreign queen towards their own queen and will not let either of them leave until they fight to the death and only one remain. I'm not entirely sure it's true because I haven't found any other sources to confirm this "royal rumble" observation but it sounds really cool so I thought I might mention it...

For more about the anthropomorphic aspects of bees I recommend the book - "The life of the bee" by Maurice Maeterlinck.

Next time I think I'll write about how I got started with this project and show some of the steps along the way. Here's a snick peek:

See ya next post!

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