honey bee

All right, honey bees. I’m on to you. You might win all the popularity and beauty contests — Miss Congeniality, Most Likely to Succeed, Best All-Around, Best in Show. You might even win the talent competition, but that’s only because I’ve never been invited to judge. Maybe you have all the others fooled, but you can’t fool me. I know your dirty little secrets, and I’m here to out you.

Honey bees, you aren’t even from around here! You’re what we call a nonnative. You aren’t from South Carolina or Tennessee or even California or Alaska. You’re from Africa, Europe, Asia. Before the settlers got here, you never even dreamed of the land of the longleaf pine. In fact, when you first hit our shores, the Native Americans called you the “white man’s fly” because seeing your hiney in the honeysuckle indicated the presence of human newcomers nearby.

But here you come buzzing into our state, you furry, big-eyed carpetbagger, squeezing your way into our flowers, charming us with that nectar-dripping face, and what do we do? We snub the more than 10,000 native insect species crawling across our forests and lawns (not to mention the dozens of bee species!), and we petition to make you our state insect.

Why didn’t we choose the nimble, mottled-brown Carolina mantis to symbolize our intelligence? It even has Carolina in its name! Or how about our hulking Hercules beetle, with that long, majestic horn, to symbolize our state’s beauty and power? OK, fine, want a bee? Why not go for the Southeastern blueberry bee, a fuzzy little superhero who specializes in pollinating those delicious, valuable berries with unparalleled efficiency and acumen?

No, Apis mellifera, honey-bearing bee, we chose you, and we were the first to do so. Of the 17 states that now claim you as theirs, we were the first to admit our intoxication with your hard work, industriousness, and cooperation, and we were the first to petition the state legislature to make you ours. Of course, Arkansas scooped us when we tabled you for the winter session, but you were our idea first. And we do have more beekeepers here than in any other state. But I say pish-posh to that, you waggle-bottomed honey hoarder! Want industriousness? Cooperation? Give me ants! We have more than 250 species of ants native to this state, and they do good work, too.

Are you trying to tell me that your contribution of millions of dollars to our state’s economy each year through your pollinating cash crops and producing honey is enough for us to tout you as our official entomological icon? Some of us aren’t so materialistic that we keep track of our gifts, you know. Take the underappreciated and native dung beetle, for example. Let’s just say we’d be knee-deep in something very unpleasant without their patrolling our fields and forests. We can’t all be so glamorous as to have a queen.

Look, I love the shag as much as the next person, but when you dance, you’re just showing off. I dance for fun; you dance to tell your sisters where the sweet spots of nectar hide, how far away, and in what direction. You even have dance-offs to vote on which neighborhood you should move to! You can’t win me over with your twinkle toes. I know how your shaking booty can sting.

What’s that, you say? Yes, I suppose it could be considered “impressive” that you sometimes fly more than seven miles for food, that you bury your charismatic little muzzle in two million flowers just to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey. That’s one pound. Of the sometimes hundreds of pounds of honey per hive per year. Please, spare me this droning. I’m immune to your appeal.

And don’t even get me started on your keepers. Packing our fields, our backyards, even our rooftops to the brim with boxes and boxes of you busybodies! Dragging you around the state to move pollen from flower to flower, coming to our schools and fairs to tell us all about the mutualisms, pollination, and apiculture, those “wonders of nature.” All the while, all you do is work, work, work. In and out, in and out of that hive entrance you go, without so much as a kiss my foot to the keeper in the bee suit. I don’t understand how they put up with you, honestly.

So go on, get, you sugar-bellied outsider, you stinger-laced snugglebear! We can get along just fine without you. We North Carolinians have plenty of six-legged wonders to take your place. Please just pop in to my clover in the mornings every now and again, so I can watch you buzz. And leave me some of those berries you pollinate. Maybe some okra to fry, and a slice of watermelon, too. And please, too, a little honey for my biscuits.

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Eleanor Spicer Rice earned her Ph.D. in entomology at North Carolina State University. She is the author of Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants of New York City.