Comments on Green “Queen” Porn

I would like to give a few comments on the  great “Green Porno” short educational film about the queen bee. Even though most aspects in this film are spot on, other ones may be a bit misleading.

First of all, the film starts off a bit dubious. Isabella Rossellini’s first line is: “If a were a bee, a queen bee, I would be very fat”. Then you see her dressed up as an enormously fat queen bee laying on the ground.

I remember thinking exactly the same thing before I became a beekeeper: I thought that queen bees were big and fat. I almost imagined a kind of bumble bee. I remember when a beekeeper pointed out an actual queen to me for the first time. I was so surprised – she wasn’t fat at all! She also wasn’t that big. Yes, she was slightly bigger than the workers, but you have to have a good eye to recognise her among the crowd. She is certainly not the big conspicuous blop that Rossellini embodies. Frankly, her visual representation of the queen -if anything- looks like a massive bumble-bee to me. I think her film re-enforces a misleading stereotypical thought about queen bees, and that is unnecessary. If only her outfit was a bit more “queen-shaped” I would have been a lot happier. In my eyes, the most outstanding aspect of the queen’s body are her wings that seem short in relation to her long abdomen.

Rossellini then explains the queen’s role in the bee society, and the roles of the workers and drones. She explains that when workers feed royal jelly to a larva, it will turn the larva into a fertile queen. Then she describes the journey of the queen’s mating flight. And this is where an other misrepresentation occurs.

She describes the mating flight from the point of view of one single male. First, you see “the brothers” hanging out together, completely bored and waiting to have sex; then one single male stands up, beats up his brothers to prove he is the strongest and flies up to the queen to mate with her.

Then, after sex, Lo and behold! When the drone tries to pull out his penis it gets stuck in the vagina and breaks off! “But it would prevent other males from mating with her”.

It seems like Rossellini says that only one strong drone has the privilege to mate with the queen, and after sex other males can’t mate with her anymore.  This one and only drone dies and the queen is fulfilled to give birth to his babies and start a new colony. It is a quick wrap up.

This film overlooks the fact that the mating flight of the queen takes place over a few days, and each day she mates with many different drones.

I think Rossilini has realised this misrepresentation. Perhaps this is why she made a second film about the queen bee. This one is called “Burt Talks to the Bees: Queen Bee”.

She corrects her simplified story in this second film. Here, she elaborates more thoroughly on what happens during the mating flight. She tells that the queen has “many husbands”. She flies out in spring, and the males are attracted by her perfume (in other words: her pheromones). The mating flight lasts for a few days, and each day the queen mates with about 16 or 17 males. “We bees don’t waste sperm like you humans do”, she says. She emphasises that the queen saves the sperm from all the males – and uses it throughout her lifetime to give birth to her daughters.

So, not just sperm from one male as the first film suggested. It is great that this second film was made, but it almost becomes a requirement to watch it in order to not be mislead by the first film. And that’s a shame: each film is an individual entity and they should be complete and correct in themselves.

I realise it is a dilemma for people like Rossellini who want to deliver science in a clever, accessible way. It is a battle between two evils: What do you prefer for your audience – ignorance or error? Is walking around with a simplified (mis)representation in your head, better than knowing nothing at all? Simple generalisations like these are a good way to attract an audience, but it is a challenge to depict the “simple” as accurate as possible.

However, I don’t want to bee too negative. I really love both of these films and I think Rossillini is amazingly convincing! It is great films like these are out there. Emphasising family relationships like husbands, fathers, grandfathers sons and daughters is a great way of creating a feeling of connectedness to bees. Looking at animals from a human point of view makes it so much easier to relate and to care about the animals- and that is exactly the goal.

What do you think?

 

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Dance Lessons! How to Dance Like a Bee?

How To Dance Like A Bee? 

According to the German naturalist and Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch, who published his first work on honey bee communication  in 1920, bees perform two types of dances to communicate the location of food sources. They are called the round dance and the wag-tail dance. His descriptions of the dances are quite detailed, which allows you, if you feel like it, to give it a go yourself.

Instructions for the Round Dance.
This is a dance that scout bees dance when they have found food within 100 metres distance from the hive. It goes like this:

*Run in small circles
*Rush clockwise and anti-clockwise with quick, short steps.
*Make sure you dance on one spot for at least a few seconds or minutes
*Then, move to another spot and dance again.
*Take a break every now and then, and share a sweet gift with your audience. Then continue to dance.

It is a very enticing dance; don’t be surprised if others decide to join you!

This is exactly what the other bees do. Some of them become so excited that they decide to join the dance before leaving the hive in search for the food source. Unfortunately, this dance doesn’t provide the bees with very detailed information of the exact location. The only thing they know is that it is close – but they don’t know the direction. Therefore, they will start to fly out in all directions looking for this amazing source of deliciousness. (This is also a reason why robbing in urban areas is serious, and can cause a nuisance to neighbours, see my previous post)

Instructions for the Wag-Tail Dance.
This is a dance that bees dance when they found food more than 100 metres away.  It goes like this:

*Run straight and waggle your abdomen
*Turn a half-circle and begin the straight run again, but:
*This time, start the path on which you will return on the opposite side so that your dance will become a figure-of-eight pattern.
*Take a break every now and then, and share a sweet gift with your audience. Then continue to dance.

The more dances, the better! It is an indicator of how many food sources have been found.

This dance is more specific. It communicates distance and direction of the food source.
*The longer your straight run is, the further away the food source;
*Remember that the bees dance on a vertical ground – their comb. This is handy to them, because it means that they can indicate the direction of the food source in relation to the position of the sun in the sky. If the food source is directly towards the sun, the bee will run directly upwards on the comb, and if the food is directly away from the sun, the bee will run straight down the comb. All other directions can be determined in a similar way.

The dance communicates a few other things. The dancers share a bit of nectar, which isn’t just a deed of generosity, but it communicates information of the scent and sugar content of this food source, that will aid the other bees in finding it. Also, the bees communicate the best time to go and find it: some plants don’t provide pollen or nectar all day long. The bees need to know when they can go, and this is communicated through the particular time the dance itself is performed. Finally, bees don’t just dance to tell the other where food is (nectar & pollen) but also where water is, as well as the directions to a new home in the swarming season.

But there are two problems: They have to take in consideration that as time ticks, the sun “moves” through the sky. Also, the sun is not always clearly visible.Where the dance so far has been quite understandable for humans, here comes the point of difference. We can’t quite grasp it: how do the bees overcome these issues?

  • Apparently, bees have an inbuilt “sun-compass” system that takes the movement of the sun in consideration as the dance is communicated to them. Also, their eyes are built to be able to see ultra violet light, even on cloudy days, so they can always decide where the sun is.

There are still a lot of mysterious around the dances of the bees. Not everyone agrees on these theories…

How do they do it? How do you do it? Come on and Wiggle Dance for me!

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Information from Practical Beekeeping in New Zealand, p.56-57