Fear, revulsion, delight, fascination, hatred, even reverence - no other class of animals seems to inspire such a wide array of human emotion, reaction and interaction as do the insects. Insects represent one of our greatest threats to food security in agriculture, and yet, we also depend on insect pollination for 1/3 of the food that we eat. A human being cannot go a single day without interacting on some level with an insect, directly or indirectly. The apple you ate this morning was likely pollinated by a bee. You may have been bitten, stung, or otherwise assaulted by a six legged organism trying to feed or defend itself. The house or building you are in right now likely has been treated to prevent insects from eating its structural elements. You might have smiled at the sight of a swallowtail butterfly fluttering past your window. Or you may have screamed in revulsion and stepped on something crawling around in your home. The myriad of ways we interact with and relate to insects is remarkable.
Since childhood, I have always loved insects. To explain why is impossible, most of us cannot explain why we love anything, we just do. However I didn't find my specific love of bees until age 26, when I found myself as a graduate student at Florida International University, studying beekeeping in small villages in the Mayan Zone of Mexico. In this region the people keep two kinds of bees - one is their native honeybee, a stingless bee affectionately known to the people there as a "lady bee" (Xunan Kab), the second is the infamous killer bee (Africanized honey bee). The Maya have a long history with bees, it is documented in the Mayan hieroglyphs. One of the temples at the ancient Mayan site Tulum depicts the "descending god", a god who brought the Maya their first bee (the Xunan Kab) directly from heaven.
The god holds a bee in it's hands as it descends toward humanity bearing this wonderful gift. Bees are more than just an insect to the Maya, they are a gift which connects them directly to the sacred. Honey is used in religious ceremonies, and various natural medicines for coughs, colds, sore throats, eye infections, and other ailments. The invasion of the Africanized honeybee deeply affected these traditions, as the stingless bees were unable to compete with the Africanized bee and have been slowly disappearing, along with the practice of keeping them. It was thus that my fascination with bees began, along with my determination to protect native bee diversity. After learning a great deal from the beekeepers in Mexico, I became a beekeeper myself. I will blog more about these experiences, as well as my experiences studying the wild bees of Georgia, in posts to come.