Lithuanian, the most conservative of all Indo-European languages, is riddled with references to bees.

Lithuanian, the most conservative of all Indo-European languages, is riddled with references to bees.

In mid-January, the snow made the little coastal town of Šventoji in north-west Lithuania feel like a film set. Restaurants, shops and wooden holiday cabins all sat silently with their lights off, waiting for the arrival of spring.

I found what I was looking for on the edge of the town, not far from the banks of the iced-over Šventoji river and within earshot of the Baltic Sea: Žemaitiu alka, a shrine constructed by the Lithuanian neo-pagan organisation Romuva. Atop a small hillock stood 12 tall, thin, slightly tapering wooden figures. The decorations are austere but illustrative: two finish in little curving horns; affixed to the top of another is an orb emitting metal rays. One is adorned with nothing but a simple octagon. I looked down to the words carved vertically into the base and read ‘Austėja’. Below it was the English word: ‘bees’.

This was not the first time I’d encountered references to bees in Lithuania. During previous visits, my Lithuanian friends had told me about the significance of bees to their culture.

Lithuanians don’t speak about bees grouping together in a colony like English-speakers do. Instead, the word for a human family (šeimas) is used. In the Lithuanian language, there are separate words for death depending on whether you’re talking about people or animals, but for bees – and only for bees – the former is used. And if you want to show a new-found Lithuanian pal what a good friend they are, you might please them by calling them bičiulis, a word roughly equivalent to ‘mate’, which has its root in bitė – bee. In Lithuania, it seems, a bee is like a good friend and a good friend is like a bee.

Seeing the shrine in Šventoji made me wonder: could all these references be explained by ancient Lithuanians worshipping bees as part of their pagan practices?

Lithuania has an extensive history of paganism. In fact, Lithuania was the last pagan state in Europe. Almost 1,000 years after the official conversion of the Roman Empire facilitated the gradual spread of Christianity, the Lithuanians continued to perform their ancient animist rituals and worship their gods in sacred groves. In the 12th Century, modern-day Estonia and Latvia were overrun and forcibly converted by crusaders, but the Lithuanians successfully resisted their attacks. Eventually, the state gave up paganism of its own accord: Grand Duke Jogaila converted to Catholicism in 1386 in order to marry the Queen of Poland.

This rich pagan history is understandably a source of fascination for modern Lithuanians – and many others besides. The problem is that few primary sources exist to tell us what Lithuanians believed before the arrival of Christianity. We can be sure that the god of thunder Perkūnas was of great importance as he is extensively documented in folklore and song, but most of the pantheon is based on guesswork. However, the Lithuanian language may provide – not proof, exactly, but clues, tantalising hints, about those gaps in the country’s past.

In Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, I spoke to Dalia Senvaitytė, a professor of cultural anthropology at Vytautas Magnus University. She was sceptical about my bee-worshipping theory, telling me that there may have been a bee goddess by the name of Austėja, but she’s attested in just one source: a 16th-Century book on traditional Lithuanian beliefs written by a Polish historian.

It’s more likely, she said, that these bee-related terms reflect the significance of bees in medieval Lithuania. Beekeeping, she explained “was regulated by community rules, as well as in special formal regulations”. Honey and beeswax were abundant and among the main exports, I learned, which is why its production was strictly controlled.

But the fact that these references to bees have been preserved over hundreds of years demonstrates something rather interesting about the Lithuanian language: according to the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, it’s the most conservative of all living Indo-European languages. While its grammar, vocabulary and characteristic sounds have changed over time, they’ve done so only very slowly. For this reason, the Lithuanian language is of enormous use to researchers trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European, the single language, spoken around four to five millennia ago, that was the progenitor of tongues as diverse as English, Armenian, Italian and Bengali.

All these languages are related, but profound sound shifts that have gradually taken place have made them distinct from one another. You’d need to be a language expert to see the connection between English ‘five’ and French cinq – let alone the word that Proto-Indo-Europeans are thought to have used, pénkʷe. However, that connection is slightly easier to make out from the Latvian word pieci, and no trouble at all with Lithuanian penki. This is why famous French linguist Antoine Meillet once declared that “anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant”.

Lines can be drawn to other ancient languages too, even those that are quite geographically distant. For example, the Lithuanian word for castle or fortress – pilis – is completely different from those used by its non-Baltic neighbours, but is recognisably similar to the Ancient Greek word for town, polis. Surprisingly, Lithuanian is also thought to be the closest surviving European relative to Sanskrit, the oldest written Indo-European language, which is still used in Hindu ceremonies.

This last detail has led to claims of similarities between Indian and ancient Baltic cultures. A Lithuanian friend, Dovilas Bukauskas, told me about an event organised by local pagans that he attended. It began with the blessing of a figure of a grass snake – a sacred animal in Baltic tradition – and ended with a Hindu chant.

I asked Senvaitytė about the word gyvatė. This means ‘snake’, but it shares the same root with gyvybė, which means ‘life’. The grass snake has long been a sacred animal in Lithuania, reverenced as a symbol of fertility and luck, partially for its ability to shed its skin. A coincidence? Perhaps, but Senvaitytė thinks in this case probably not.

The language may also have played a role in preserving traditions in a different way. After Grand Duke Jogaila took the Polish throne in 1386, Lithuania’s gentry increasingly adopted not only Catholicism, but also the Polish language. Meanwhile, rural Lithuanians were much slower to adopt Christianity, not least because it was almost always preached in Polish or Latin. Even once Christianity had taken hold, Lithuanians were reluctant to give up their animist traditions. Hundreds of years after the country had officially adopted Christianity, travellers through the Lithuanian countryside reported seeing people leave bowls of milk out for grass snakes, in the hope that the animals would befriend the community and bring good luck.

Similarly, bees and bee products seem to have retained importance, especially in folk medicine, for their perceived healing powers. Venom from a bee was used to treat viper bites, and one treatment for epilepsy apparently recommended drinking water with boiled dead bees. But only, of course, if the bees had died from natural causes.

But Lithuanian is no longer exclusively a rural language. The last century was a tumultuous one, bringing war, industrialisation and political change, and all of the country’s major cities now have majorities of Lithuanian-speakers. Following its accession to the EU in 2004, the country is now also increasingly integrated with Europe and the global market, which has led to the increasing presence of English-derived words, such as alternatyvus (alternative) and prioritetas (priority).

Given Lithuania’s troubled history, it’s in many ways amazing the language has survived to the present day. At its peak in the 14th Century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched as far as the Black Sea, but in the centuries since, the country has several times disappeared from the map entirely.

It’s too simplistic to say that Lithuanian allows us to piece together the more mysterious stretches in its history, such as the early, pagan years in which I’m so interested. But the language acts a little like the amber that people on the eastern shores of the Baltic have traded since ancient times, preserving, almost intact, meanings and structures that time has long since worn away everywhere else.

And whether or not Austėja was really worshipped, she has certainly remained a prominent presence. Austėja remains consistently in the top 10 most popular girls names in Lithuania. It seems that, despite Lithuania’s inevitable cultural and linguistic evolution, the bee will always be held in high esteem.

Japanese scientists demonstrate ‘drone bee’ prototype

Japanese scientists demonstrate ‘drone bee’ prototype

Japanese scientists demonstrate ‘drone bee’ prototype

A group of Japanese researchers have successfully demonstrated that a small ‘drone bee’ can be used to artificially pollinate flowers.

The team from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) demonstrated that with a few modifications a small commercial drone could be used as an effective pollinator.

The AIST team took a Chinese-made G-Force PXY CAM drone and affixed an array of animal hairs to its underside.

Crucially the team then covered these hairs in an ‘ionic liquid gel’ which would be sticky enough for pollen grains to affix themselves to the hairs.

The drone was then tested flying between flowers of the L. japonicum plant, wherein it managed to successfully pollinate the flowers 41% of the time.

The researchers themselves believe that a similar, but somewhat more advanced implementation of their findings could be used to combat declining bee numbers.

In many parts of the world bee populations are in serious decline due to a phenomenon known as ‘Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’. This disorder while not fully understood, is thought to be linked to the use of certain pesticides by farmers.

“…it should lead to the development of robotic pollinators and help counter the problems caused by the declining honeybee populations,” the researchers wrote in a paper submitted to the scientific journal ‘Chem’.

“We believe that robotic pollinators will be able to move smartly and learn the optimal pollination path by using GPS and artificial intelligence.”

If a huge number of these artificial drone bees could be created it would indeed serve as a solution to the looming agricultural problems caused by CCD.

However, to actually produce enough of these drones that they could effectively replace the millions if not billions of bees on Earth, would be a gargantuan task.

Humanity would be much better off to try and determine once and for all why bee populations are in decline and take actions to rectify this – bees themselves are a far better and more efficient pollinator than these drones could ever hope to be.

Moreover, as dystopian TV shows like Black Mirror correctly point out, whoever has control over such a large number of drones, would have a disturbingly large amount of power.

South Africa/Sri Lanka match delayed due to bizarre reason

South Africa/Sri Lanka match delayed due to bizarre reason

A buzz like no other in Johannesburg today as a swarm of bees invaded the One Day International match between South Africa and Sri Lanka.

An unusual invasion took place at the Wanderers Stadium as the stinging swarm of insects dropped players to the floor.

The bees invaded the pitch in the middle of the 26th over, leaving the crowd with more than they bargained for.
Play was temporarily abandoned, however, another battle began.

It was the groundsmen versus the the sea of black and yellow that became the spectacle.
It appears fast bowler Chris Morris is quick thinking too, as he suggested the use of a fire extinguisher to terminate the presence of the bees and continue play.

A temporary strategy from the cricketer with some success being seen, but the bees were not going down without a fight.

The groundsmen were defeated. It was plan ‘bee’ that needed to be taken to bring an end to the madness.

A professional beekeeper was summoned, gaining his claim to fame as he walked out to a packed Wanderers stadium to battle the swarm.
What did the trick? Honeycomb.

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Before long, the bees took the bait and how sweet a victory it was for the man of the hour as play was soon resumed.

It was over 65 minutes that the bees established their presence on the pitch, crashing the party and causing havoc in the international test.

An unusual day for cricket with the attention being diverted from the game and to a comical display of a battle against a sea of insects.

Inaugural Egyptair Cargo flight delivers an unusual workforce – of 60 million

The inaugural Egyptair Cargo freighter touched down at Ras Al Khaimah International Airport on Sunday (15 October) with some delicate passengers from Cairo – about 60 million of them!

 

They were honey bees destined for farms across the UAE.

The country’s honey production has seen huge growth over the past five years and more than 1,800 tonnes of honey is now being exported on an annual basis to those with a taste for the world’s original and natural sweetener.

The inaugural flight was welcomed by His Excellency, Engr. Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the chairman of Ras Al Khaimah International Airport and Department of Civil Aviation.

His Excellency stated: “RAK Airport is ideally positioned to handle this precious cargo and we are grateful to Egyptair Cargo and Al Najeh Honey & Bees Trading to give us the opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities in this regard.  We also appreciate all the support provided by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, RAK Customs and other authorities.”

His Excellency expressed his gratitude to His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the UAE and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, for his continued support to RAK Airport.

The bees themselves were part of a re-stocking exercise that takes place regularly, and have to be handled with great care. Mohammed Al Najeh, who runs the operation and heads Najeh Honey and Bees Trading explained that the exercise of getting the bees from Egypt is one that has to run like clockwork to avoid disaster. The flight timing is chosen so that the bees arrive after the fierce midday heat and are met immediately by the 30 customers who pick them up and head back to the farms. Inside the aircraft the temperature is set to -15 degrees Celsius in order to offset the high temperatures that the mass of bees create.

Najeh’s operations are so cutting edge within the industry that last week Philip McCabe, President of Apimondia, the world beekeeping federation, visited the UAE in order to learn about the process. McCabe also met with His Excellency Dr. Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, whose ministry has given strong support to the UAE’s honey industry.

Egyptair Cargo Country Manager, Mr. Sherif Sabry, said “Egyptair Cargo is a specialist and one of the leading airlines in the transportation of live bees and we are happy to fly them to RAK Airport as a new route on our network from Cairo.”

RAK Airport CEO, Mr. Mohammed Qazi, commented: “We have been planning this operation for many months and our goal is simply to become the leader in the industry to deliver complete operational excellence for handling live bees. Our infrastructure is best suited for such operations and we will ensure we continue to improve and surpass our already established high standards.  We believe what Mr. Al Najeh is doing for the industry is quite revolutionary, and we are pleased to be part of his high ambitions. The UAE could become a regional leader in bee farming and organic honey production, and we believe RAK Airport could play a crucial part in that process.”

RAK Airport recently announced the early start of its winter charters from various countries in Europe, CIS and Russia, and the management has continued to deliver RAK Airport’s growth trajectory amid a challenging economic climate.

New Zealand Features Honey Bee on World’s First Silver Hexagonal Coin with Resin Inclusion

 

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has unveiled (August 1) a new coin paying homage to the humble honey bee, or Apis mellifera. The honey bee is an integral part of our lives, providing honey while pollinating flowers and plants that provide the human race with needed sustenance. The life and hierarchy of the honey bee is complicated, with an organized society of three adult castes comprising of the queen, workers, and drones, each with a specific purpose and function.

Queens, who are responsible for producing and laying eggs, live for an average of two-to-three years and sometimes longer. Just one queen can lay thousands of eggs throughout her life.

Worker honey bees comprise the largest number of individuals; between 20,000 to 80,000 workers may live in any hive. They have a life span of only six weeks during the honey production season, when they store nectar, feed larvae, and produce copious amounts of honey.

The life of a drone or a male  honey bee isn’t as fortunate as his counterparts, since they begin life as an unfertilized egg laid by the queen. His primary purpose is simple: to mate with the queen; their life span focuses specifically on this single task. If a mature drone successfully mates with a queen, his life ends soon after the mating flight. If he is unsuccessful, he will be ejected from the hive at the end of the active summer season and eventually die of cold or starvation.

New-Zealand-2016-1-honey-bee

New Zealand has been recognized as one of the most advanced beekeeping countries in the world. Beekeeping was first introduced to Northland in 1839 as a home craft, but it has developed into a progressive and valuable industry. Today, the busy honey bee pollinates roughly one-third of everything we eat, making it essential to agriculture.

In addition to pollinating fruit and vegetable crops, the honey bee produces several varieties of New Zealand honey. From the delicate pöhutukawa through to the stronger flavored kämahi and rewarewa, and the robust jellied mänukahoney, these variations are endless and exclusive to New Zealand.

The natural antibiotic qualities of some mänuka honeys has also led to an international market for health care products. Last year alone, New Zealand exported nearly NZ $300 million worth of local honey. Sadly, honey bees worldwide are under threat as a result of serious pests and diseases, in particular the Varroa mite in New Zealand. This collectible legal tender commemorative coin aims to raise awareness of the crucial role the honey bee plays in food production.

The six-sided coin is produced by the BH Mayer’s Mint GmbH on behalf of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and is designed by Hannah Stancliffe-White. The reverse design incorporates the hexagonal shape as part of the overall motif based on a cell of honeycomb in a hive. In the honey-making process, worker bees build a honeycomb structure of cells where nectar and pollen are stored, and larvae develop. The honey bee is brought to life on the coin with three-dimensional engraving and color printing. It is depicted sitting on the honeycomb, which has been partially filled with translucent amber-colored resin, replicating real honey.

New-Zealand-2016-1-honey-bee-Queen

The obverse includes the effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which is the work of by Ian Rank-Broadley. The year of issue is also shown on the obverse.

Denomination Metal Weight Dimensions Quality Mintage
1 Dollar .999 Silver  31.1 Grams 46 / 40 mm. Proof, colour & resin 1500 pieces

The honey bee coin will be available from September, and is housed in a unique hexagonal case. Made from colored acrylic, the translucent case allows you to see the coin within and replicates the translucent nature of pure New Zealand honey.

Each coin comes with an individually numbered certificate of authenticity that tells the story of how honey bees were introduced to New Zealand, written by Roger Bray of The Honeybee Society of New Zealand Inc. For more information on this and other coins issued by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, please visit the Web site of New Zealand Post, official distributors of RBNZ collector coins and currency.

Collectors in New Zealand can visit their local New Zealand Post retail outlet. International sales are dispatched where applicable.

These Photos Capture The Startling Effect Of Shrinking Bee Populations

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: Chinese farmer He Guolin, 53, holds a stick with chicken feathers used to hand pollinate flowers on a pear tree on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the 'world's pear capital', but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world's major crops and food supply. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: Chinese farmer He Guolin, 53, holds a stick with chicken feathers used to hand pollinate flowers on a pear tree on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the ‘world’s pear capital’, but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world’s major crops and food supply.

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: Chinese farmer He Guolin, 53, hand pollinates flowers on a pear tree on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the 'world's pear capital', but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world's major crops and food supply. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: Chinese farmer He Guolin, 53, hand pollinates flowers on a pear tree on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the ‘world’s pear capital’, but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world’s major crops and food supply.

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: A Chinese farmer displays the pollen used to pollinate pear trees by hand on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the 'world's pear capital', but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world's major crops and food supply. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

HANYUAN, CHINA -MARCH 25: A Chinese farmer displays the pollen used to pollinate pear trees by hand on March 25, 2016 in Hanyuan County, Sichuan province, China. Heavy pesticide use on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations, and trees are now pollinated by hand in order to produce better fruit. Farmers pollinate the pear blossom individually. Hanyuan County describes itself as the ‘world’s pear capital’, but the long-term viability of hand pollination is being challenged by rising labor costs and declining fruit yields. A recent United Nations biodiversity report warned that populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating species could face extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and climate change. It noted that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production, meaning declines pose potential risks to the world’s major crops and food supply.