A Bee in the Stars

The constellation Apis, her the Southern Cross, in a detail from an illustration in Johann Bayer, Uranometria (1603).
The constellation Apis, near the Southern Cross, in a detail from an illustration in Johann Bayer, Uranometria (1603).

Bees are creatures full of wonders, being not altogether tame, nor absolutely wild, but between both, yet indocile, for most they do is by instinct.

Moses Rusden, A Further Discovery of Bees (London, 1679)


Bee Man of Tassili n’Ajjer

The Bee Man of Tassili n'Ajjer.
The Bee Man of Tassili n’Ajjer.

Tassili n’Ajjer (Berber: Tasili n Ajjer, meaning “Plateau of the Rivers”; Arabic: طاسيلي ناجر‎) is a mountain range in the Algerian section of the Sahara Desert. It is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya and Niger, covering an area of 72,000 km2.

The range is noted for its prehistoric rock art and other ancient archaeological sites, dating from the Neolithic era when the local climate was less dry, savannah rather than desert. The art is no older than 9–10 millennia, according to OSL dating of associated sediments, but may be younger.

The art depicts herds of cattle, large wild animals including crocodiles, and human activities such as hunting and dancing, inckludingthis depiction of a bee headed ‘shamen’ figure.


Honeybees can discriminate between Monet and Picasso paintings

Abstract from original paper by Wen Wu, Antonio M. Moreno, Jason M. Tangen, Judith Reinhard, published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology
January 2013, Volume 199, Issue 1, pp 45-55

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) have remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extend beyond learning simple colours, shapes or patterns. They can discriminate landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces. This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates. Here, we investigated whether this capacity extends to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style: Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso. We show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they do not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information for discrimination. When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees even demonstrated some ability to generalize. This suggests that honeybees are able to discriminate Monet paintings from Picasso ones by extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each painting style. Our study further suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals—from insects to humans—to extract and categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.

The full paper is available here. 

The Queen Bee

“The Queen Bee” is a German fairy tale, tale number 62 from over 200 collected by the Brothers Grimm. It represents a type 554 ‘the grateful animals’ motif according to the Aarne-Thompson classification system of folktales.

“Two sons of a king went out to seek their fortunes, but fell into disorderly ways. The third and youngest son, Simpleton, went out to find them, but they mocked him. They traveled on, and Simpleton prevented his brothers from destroying an ant hill, killing some ducks, and suffocating a bee hive with smoke. Then they came to a castle with stone horses in the stable, and no sign of anyone. They hunted through the castle and found a room with a little gray man, who showed them to dinner. In the morning, he showed the oldest son a stone table, on which were written three tasks. Whoever performed them would free the castle.

“The first task was to collect the princess’s thousand pearls, scattered in the woods. Whoever tried and failed would be turned to stone. Each of the older brothers tried and failed, and they were turned to stone. For the youngest, however, the ants collected the pearls. The second task was to fetch the key to the princess’s bedchamber from the lake, which the ducks did for him. The third task was to pick out the youngest princess from the three sleeping princesses who looked exactly alike; the only difference was that the oldest had eaten a bit of sugar before they slept, the second a little syrup, and the youngest some honey. The queen bee picked out the youngest.

“This woke the castle, and restored those who had been turned to stone. The youngest son married the youngest princess, and his two brothers, the other princesses.”


Hum Hum Hum …

Beekeeper on an old German stained glass painting. Underneath the refrain of a children's song by Hoffmann von Fallersleben
Beekeeper on an old German stained glass painting. Underneath the refrain of a children’s song by Hoffmann von Fallersleben

“Hum, hum, hum” is one of Germany’s most popular children’s songs. August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the text in 1835 under the original title ‘Bee’. It was first published in 1843.

The text is based on the Lorsch Bee Blessing from the 10th century. The melody of the song follows a folk tune from Bohemia, recorded for the first time in 1825. The American composer Otto Dresel (1826-1890) composed a version in 1847 for vocal duet and piano.