Thursday, December 29, 2011

Social Creatures

While delivering honey on Madison Avenue in colorful mid-town Memphis, we notice a brick wall covered with striking, artistic graffiti. A small portion of the wall is particularly catching. Red hearts reflected by recent rains lead to a man in business attire with a distorted face and surrounded by symbols of love and wealth. Disturbing figures loom nearby. Words exclaim, “Enough!” and “Unite.” The simple cartoon rallies protesters in the Occupy Memphis movement to unite. The graffiti artists recognize that they can communicate a need to correct a problem, recruit allies, strengthen bonds within their group, and, together, effect a social change. As a group they can accomplish more than as individuals. Vivid images of monopolies, robber barons, and other protest movements are reflected in rain puddles.

People and honey bees are social creatures. Both accomplish much through their group efforts, though the creatures and their behaviors are completely unalike. People often communicate in symbolic language; honey bees communicate in language silent to us. People communicate by voice, hand signs, expressions, body language, and writing, as on the Madison Avenue wall. Bees communicate by dances, vibrations, odors, and pheromones. Bees communicate among the colony threats to the hive and sources of nectar and pollen. Bees also convey the need to perform age-related hive duties, produce and store honey, replace the queen, swarm, and find new nest areas. Bees somehow learn to do things that none of the bees in the hive have done before. Amazingly, drones that have never visited a drone concentration area know where they are located; they create them in the same location year to year. Also, bees that have never seen a winter know to stockpile food for the next one, storing food for future generations of bees. Bees communicate the need for work to be done inside and outside the hive. They share in the building of the nest and the care and feeding of the brood. Only people communicate with paint on city walls.

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