Beekeepers are a serious lot

Published 12:04 pm Friday, September 16, 2022

Beekeepers are so dedicated that most see their bees as part of their family, a special society we hope to help because it contributes to all our lives.


And so it came as no surprise that when the queenest of the queen bees, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away, her royal beekeeper entered the apiary with the sad task of informing her colonies that their Queen was gone.

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Telling the bees when a loved one has passed away isn’t something new that popped up because some TikTok “influencer” shot a 10-second video of it happening and posted it for tiks and giggles. It’s a centuries-old tradition not easily understood by those lacking knowledge of the history or ways of the bees.


Beekeeping is a mostly rural and agrarian undertaking, although the hives of beekeepers can be found atop buildings in urban settings or nestled into small suburban backyards. It would not surprise me to learn that somewhere there is an ardent beekeeper who has tattooed on his or her body the ageless quote by Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.” Bees pollinate plants, animals–including we humans–eat the plants, and the food chain thrives.


All tradition is held together by threads of superstition. Everything from sports and religion to fishing and farming produce superstitions.


For many beekeepers, it is the familial draw that pulls them in closer. Watching and examining their bees frequently gives them a sense of kinship and respect.


Although superstition probably was the motivator centuries ago, today it is those two characteristics–kinship and respect–that motivate beekeepers to tell their bees that a loved one has died.


The Queen’s beekeeper declined to comment when asked about it, but there were reports that he placed black ribbons tied into bows on each hive before he gave them the sad news.


Beekeepers and farmers have been known to shed tears when their animals die. Back on the farm, we always stood silent for a minute before saying words of thanks to animals that had died. 


When my mother passed away, the animal world lost one of its own. She was the consummate animal lover. Like her mother, she often serenaded a yard bustling with chickens who gathered at her feet as she made her way to the henhouse.


It was a sad day when she passed away. She was a pioneer woman who could charm a horse, settle a bull, milk a cow, butcher a hog and make the best biscuits in the world.


So it seemed to us that sharing this sad news with our thousands of bees who had become part of our family was the natural thing to do because when she visited our farm she was fascinated to see the bees.


I couldn’t tell our bees because I would have been a blubbering puddle in front of them, so Anita The Stoic stepped in front of their houses and whispered the sad news, as she did with other family losses.


To some, this must seem a silly notion, telling the bees. To me, it is a show of love and respect, ever fading qualities today.


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at