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The not-so-secret lives of Kuwait’s bees

Photo shows bee cells at the Kuwait Science Club
Photo shows bee cells at the Kuwait Science Club

A variety of honey from Kuwait won the gold medal at an international conference and competition held recently in South Korea. Over 100 countries participated in this event. Kuwaiti apiarist Abdulaziz Al-Barjas received the gold medal for four kinds of Sidr (Ziziphus spina-christi) honey, while the spring flower honey with nuts scooped the silver medal. He is a member of the Kuwait Science Club (KSC), which provides services for beekeepers.

The apiaries have been in operation at KSC since 1996, and it manages beehives in other locations in Fintas, Mishref, Bayan and others. “We do surveys to check the number of pastures and honeycombs to check the bee density, and accordingly, we distribute them in various apiaries, as we avoid a high concentration of bees in one place,” Ahmad Al-Tarmoum, Director of the Bee Research Department at KSC, told Kuwait Times.

Kuwait imports 18,000 hives (including 20-60,000 bees) every year. “The majority of these are imported from Egypt, although there are a few imports from other countries such as Italy, Australia and others. The honey produced from KSC’s apiaries is sold in the local market,” Tarmoum said.

The quality of honey depends on the plant source. “It differs if it comes from a tree, bush, herb or other plant, and this makes a difference in taste, smell, color and density (liquidity). Kuwaiti honey has the best quality and purity. Some kinds of honey are internationally classified as medical honey and these do not participate in competitions, and we have many local producers of this kind of honey. Kuwaiti honey is only sold locally as we don’t produce enough quantity to export it yet, but I hope we will in the future,” Tarmoum pointed out.

Photos by Yasser Al-Zayyat Kuwait Times
Photos by Yasser Al-Zayyat Kuwait Times

Feminine World
The bees don’t live long. “It’s a feminine world. The females are those who work (worker bees), and live between 45 days to three months depending on their work. The male bees cannot eat by themselves, so the females have to feed them as their long tube-like tongues are short and can’t reach the flowers. So they completely depend on the females, and this is the reason behind killing them after getting their mission done, which is fertilization. The females kill all males either directly or by expelling them from the hives, as they won’t be able to survive alone without being fed. This male massacre usually takes place in March,” he noted.

Only the queen bee lives longer – between four to seven years. “There is a queen in each cell. When the queen gets old and cannot lay eggs, we destroy it and replace it with a new queen. Sometimes the queen dies, so the cell is destroyed and fake queens or fake mothers appear, who lay sterile eggs (only males). The queen is fertilized only once, and this is enough for her entire life. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs in one day. Two elements are most important – the pollen and the honey, and these affect the number of eggs. The queen only eats royal jelly for nutrition. This royal jelly is a white substance taken from the brain gland of the worker bee, and consumes it directly from the worker’s mouth,” Tarmoum explained.

“The worker bee has a shorter life depending on the work she does. Her life is divided into stages, and only those of a certain age feed the queen. When the worker reaches 21 days of age, she starts flying outside the hive and brings the nectar from outside. Depending on her duty, she can also bring water or pollen. She has two stomachs – one for food and the other for honey, and five eyes – two moving and three fixed,” Tarmoum added.

The male bee looks different and doesn’t have a stinger, while the female worker bee does. “The male dies after fertilizing the queen bee, as she cuts his organ to keep the sperm inside. If her reservoir is not full yet, she then calls for another male bee to fertilize her till she obtains the desired level of sperm. The queen goes out of the cell and produces a sound that can reach as far as 4 km that she is ready for fertilization, and the strongest male pollinates her. Then she returns to the cell, and the bees celebrate this occasion with a wedding celebration after cleaning the place for her to lay the eggs. The workers also remove the organ from her. The queen chooses the gender of the bees she produces,” he noted.

Harsh Climate
The weather in Kuwait is not suitable for bee breading. “We don’t live in a bee environment – all this work is an initiative by the beekeepers. We import Egyptian bees as they are the closest to our environment. Italian bees, for instance, require a specialist and expert to deal with them, so the majority of apiarists seek the simpler bees. Also, the Italian bee honey has nutrients, but we aim to produce honey without nutrients. Although Italian breeders are keen to produce pure honey, if the honey contains nutrients, then it’s not med honey anymore. This is not easy to find out – only experts or laboratories can find out,” stressed Tarmoum.

Honey has nutrients when the bee consumes water and sugar and not only nectar, while med honey is pure, only from nectar. “Here at the club, we aim to only produce med honey. The bees can acclimatize themselves according to the environment. So if there are not enough flowers, they live by consuming the dew from the trees, and this is called the ‘honeydew’ honey (Nadwa). Or they consume jujube nectar and produce Sidr honey, which is produced by bees who only feed on the nectar of Sidr trees,” he stated.

The bees fly within a distance of 5 km three times a day to get food. “There are bee scouts who fly horizontally to discover the place if it is safe, especially from birds that eat insects, especially bees. They take samples of the nectar to the worker bees, who taste this nectar, and they then produce rhythmic movements inside the honeycomb so bees in other cells don’t steal their plan. The worker bees then fly to the place provided by the scouts. If the nectar from that place is not enough for the worker bees, the scouts fly to discover other places. The beekeeper can recognize the scouts from the workers. Bees between 18- to 21-days-old do the function of guards. Those which don’t fly to bring nectar will prepare a list of needed items such as water, pollens and nectar, or if there is damage in a cell and so on. Some worker bees produce wax, which is produced at a certain age. The bee kingdom has a very high degree of organization,” highlighted Tarmoum.

Active Community
There are about 300 beekeepers who are members of the KSC. “They keep their beehives at the club and the staff there takes care of them. The club also holds a monthly gathering of these members to discuss new developments in this field and exchange experiences. The club also informs them about related events and news. The club holds courses in beekeeping and provides advice and information to any breeder or interested person even if he isn’t a member. KSC also provides bee fighting services with its volunteer teams, as firemen were doing this job in the past,” he said.

Tarmoum also spoke about the benefits of a bee’s sting. “The person can get similar results of Botox and other medicines through bee stings. The problem is not during the sting, but after it. The person who is stung should carefully remove the stinger, and regarding the pain, an ice cube will heal it,” concluded Tarmoum, mentioning two of his experiences using honey as treatment for healing both injury and inflammation.

By Nawara Fattahova

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