Talking about bees at the Hive

Simons Town residents June Cullinan, Karin Sternberg and Scarborough resident Taz Aumuller, from Caretakers of Melliferous Bees (Comb), at The Hive in Muizenberg, talking bees.

It was entirely appropriate for a talk on bees to be held at The Hive in Muizenberg.

It was given by June Cullin and Karin Sternberg – founders of Ujubee, a research project dedicated to conserving our wild bees – and paired with striking photography and video footage of bees in the Cape Point wilderness.

June is an artist and bee conservationist and Karin is a bee tracker and amateur naturalist. They both live in Simon’s Town.
The footage was filmed by the two women, who have learned to read their subjects well enough to know by the sound they make whether they are welcome, or not. That’s helpful because they don’t wear protective gear when approaching bee nests – the bulky bee-keeping suits, they say, risk causing too much of a disturbance.

And, yes, wild bees have nests; farmed bees have hives. The difference in the shape of these is remarkable: wild nests are created in rock crevices and undulate in golden humming waves in a variety of shapes.

Up close, the geometry and beauty of the nests drew appreciative gasps from the audience.

The talk last week was the last in a series that June and Karin have given in Muizenberg.

They’ve been giving talks all over the Cape Peninsula to raise money to get them to the Netherlands where they have been invited to present at the Learning from the Bees Conference in Amsterdam later this year.

June, who narrates the scrolling photographs and manages the sound and video footage, conveyed the beauty of the bees’ societal structure their tenderness to one another and dedication to their roles.

The audience watched in silence as a bee emptied the entire contents of her honey stomach to feed her sister, after both of them were nearly drowned.

June showed off the symbiotic relationship of pseudo-scorpions and bees, and her words were borne out by the video footage of bees bringing the eggs of an invading insect out of their nest, and directing the pseudo-scorpions to the egg to eat.

“When I was filming this, I initially didn’t even see the pseudo-scorpions. They are so tiny they can barely be seen with the naked eye. We know they are valued by the bees because when bees move nests, they take these little guys with them, the pseudo-scorpions hanging on to their legs as they go,” she said.

June and Karin showed how the bees collect propolis, resplendent with essential oils, and described its role in both medicating and disinfecting the colony, and how they use it as a fire retardant.

When building their own nests, the bees incorporate an actual fire wall, which protects them from the ravages of the very element necessary to germinate growth in the fynbos they play such a crucial role in pollinating.

The Cape fynbos, June said, is the smallest, but the richest of the Earth’s six floral kingdoms and apis mellifera capensis (the Cape honeybee) pollinates more than 85% of the fynbos flowers.

Without these bees we would lose this floral kingdom.

“If we can learn from bees in the wild and what they need to be healthy, we can better understand what bees need to flourish when we keep bees. Fundamental to this is the protection of wild bees in their unique biomes, safeguarding their diversity and gene pool for the future,” June said.

For more information about Ujubee and the work they do, Visit: www.ujubee.com