Saturday, July 28, 2007
Gaden S. Robinson reviews two new books on bees, in TLS:
Man's obsession with the bee, for that is what it is, is founded on two most profitable premisses, honey and wax. The former is the sweetest natural substance widely available (Wilson points out that dates are sweeter) -it is a luxury in any society and was treasured throughout recorded history, its popularity only waning slightly with the advent of cheap sugar. The use of beeswax for candles, an obviously later innovation than the use of honey as a food, was a significant step forward in lighting technology. Beeswax burns cleanly and brightly with a steady flame and a pleasant smell, all features distinctly wanting in candles or wick-lamps burning animal fats or oils.
It is probable that man's taste for honey can be traced deep into his primate ancestry.
Gorillas and chimpanzees raid bees' nests as do monkeys and baboons. The Asian sun bear's claws may be adapted as much for breaking into hollow trees to feed on honey as to find insect larvae. And an African bird, the honeyguide, has evolved calls and behaviour to lure ratels or honey badgers to a bees' nest.
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