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Basic Information

The bee is a class of winged insects found in all habitats on Earth with flowering plants on all continents except Antarctica. There is significant variation within the class, but the best known type of bee is the eusocial variety which produces honey - and this type actually includes several species, of which only one, Apis mellifera is truly domesticated.

Whilst indigenous to Central Eurasia the domesticated honey bee has been introduced worldwide and now ranges everywhere except the Arctic, Antarctic and central Sahara. Within this range it is extensively farmed by humans for its honey and wax and valued for its role in pollinating crops. A few other varieties are semi-domesticated and can be managed, if not actively farmed.

Other varieties of bee are less economically significant as, whilst they may still serve as pollinators, they are not as effective at honey and wax production and/or more aggressive. Some species are solitary or semi-social, whilst others specialize in less high yielding plants or are far smaller than the honey bee. Larger varieties of bee also exist, but these are often non-comb building and/or aggressive. Non-domesticated honey bees can also be raided for honey by those with the skills (or natural adaptations) to do so.

Bees typically defend their home, colony and produce with a venomous sting - the honey bee can only sting once (at least against a human target) as its stinger is barbed and cannot be withdrawn from the target without fatally injuring the bee. Other species do not have this handicap. The dose of venom from any one bee - even some of the larger varieties - is typically painful rather than fatal to a healthy human (although it can also be potently allergenic and trigger violent and potentially fatal immune reactions) and those who work with bees for a prolonged period can build up an immunity. A swarm of bees, however, will deliver many hundreds of stings to its target, which can lead to non-trivial envenomations which can be incapacitating or even fatal. Also, as always, larger bees can be expected to deliver more venom. Recent medical research has found bee venom to have potential benefits in treating rheumatism and other inflammatory diseases and is occasionally used in cosmetics that aim to increase blood flow to the effected areas.

The vigour of an attack by bees will depend on the species - all of them different criteria for starting an attack, the number of bees that will participate, how hard they will press the attack home and how far they will pursue a fleeing target. Some varieties need to be physically disturbed before they will attack, others will attack anything that comes (not particularly) close to their hive.

In heraldry the bee symbolised immortality and resurrection (and occasionally industry and prudence as well) and was the symbol of the Merovingian kings of France … amongst others. In the US it is particularly associated with the Mormon religion and the putative Mormon state of Deseret.

Folklore associates bees with a number of abilities, including prescience and prescribes a variety of rituals to avoid offending a bee colony and causing it to fly away - for example the English tradition requires bees to kept abreast of all news and gossip in the human community lest they feel unwanted and left out.

Perhaps more alarmingly a genus of South American bees called trigona have come to be known as "vulture bees" due to the fact that they feed on carrion … they also produce and store a honey like substance, albeit not one recommended for human consumption, described as having a intense smoky or salty flavour. Not being nectar feeders the source of this "honey" is somewhat disputed, but may be produced by the larvae (as is the case in eusocial wasps) and then stockpiled.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Giant bees (of various sizes) are common in fRPGs and their honey - often with magical properties - a treasure.
  • Some of the more aggressive breeds, as noted, will attack passers by - these are generally not the domestic kind and might make an interesting encounter for people travelling in, say, a jungle - a swarm of furious bees appearing out of nowhere and attacking. Likely to be giant, repeat stinging bees as well.
  • …and then there was "The Battle of the Bees" in WW1 - often better known as the Battle of Tanga - an engagement in the East African theatre where an already badly managed amphibious assault on a German Port degenerated into bloody chaos as the assaulting troops disturbed a series of nests of highly aggressive giant bees.
  • The vulture bees seem plot worthy - the real thing is harmless, stingless scavenger, but something far more aggressive and predatory could be interesting.
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