'I consider bees to be our teachers': Learning from the unique minds of bees

NOW: ’I consider bees to be our teachers’: Learning from the unique minds of bees

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- People seldom spare bees a second thought but Charlie Koenen isn’t like most people.

"It's the lessons that we can learn from them that will help us integrate ourselves into nature better," said Koenen. "I'm spreading the gospel of abundance according to bees."

He describes himself as a "Beevangelist" but also the President of the Milwaukee Waukesha Beekeeping Association. Charlie says bees achieve far more than we appreciate.

"A bee lives for 30-35 days in that time its traveling around and gathering only a 12th of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life, a drop of honey it takes the hive 55 thousand miles of traveling back and forth visiting as many as 2 million flowers to produce just a jar," said Koenen.

In the United States alone, there are more than 4,000 species of bees. In Milwaukee, there are 517, but only one makes honey.

“Honeybee brains are very complex," said Dr. Chelsea Cook, Behavior Ecologist, Assistant Professor at Marquette University

So, how much do we know about bees, and how can we learn from them?

“If you looked inside of bees head, they're these big prominent areas that really drive a lot of behavior of how the honeybee sense their world,” said Cook.

I wanted to know how the mind of the bee works, how they can navigate this world with such ease.

"Using the angel of the sun, they use polarized light so they can tell in the sky polarization happens at different angels across the sky and depending on what direction they are orienting they know which direction they are in,” Cook explained.

Studies also show bees can count the objects they pass to get to food.

“They are actually keeping track of what they are passing, how many things they are passing. How many landmarks they are passing and how it translates into how far they tell everyone else to go,” said Cook.

Cooks says we know through the waggle dance that they use the sun to find the best spots.

“The waggle dance is a behavior that honeybees do to tell their colony where food is. They vibrate so they will waggle their abdomen back and forth. If they waggle straight up using gravity... that's telling the other bees go straight toward the sun,” said Cook.

This is where their personality can shine!

"How many circles they do and how intense their little abdomens, their little butts move communicate how good the food is. So, the more they do it the more enthusiastic they are about that food. And then how long that waggle dance is the distance but also how many landmarks they've passed as well as how much energy the expended,” Cook explained.

There’s a lot we can learn about bees, but there’s also a lot they can teach us.

“Bees are really good at teaching us corporation, collaboration, resilient and just the whole idea spreading abundance of the good word,” said Koenen

The next time encounter a bee, take a moment to remember just how much they contribute to our world.

"The good word from the bees is to be good to your neighbor, clean up after yourself, leave something behind that's better than what you had," said Koenen.

If you want to help pollinators, Koenen says to wait to rack up your leaves as bumblebees hid in leaf litter. He also recommends planting native plants and if you have a lawn to consider planting clover. Koenen says if you spread 20 percent clover seed within the grass, the clover won't outgrow it, white flowers will bloom, insects will like but also clover restores nitrogen into the soil.

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