Aspects of Honeybee Natural History According to the Solega
Honeybees and their products are highly prized by many cultures around the world, and as a result, indigenous communities have come to possess rich and detailed knowledge of the biology of these important insects. In this paper, I present an in-depth investigation into some aspects of honeybee natural history, as related to me by the Solega people of southern India. The Solega recognize, name, and exploit four honeybee species, and are well aware of the geographical and temporal distributions of each one. In spite of not being beekeepers – as they only forage for wild honey – their knowledge of obscure and complex phenomena such as honeybee gender and reproduction rivals that of comparable, non-industrial beekeeping societies. Swarming, another hard-to-understand honeybee behavior, is also accurately explained by Solega consultants. I contrast this knowledge to that of European bee-keeping cultures, as evidenced by the writings of Aristotle and 18th century European beekeepers. This paper shows that the Solega have a reliable and internally consistent body of honeybee knowledge based entirely on brief encounters with these wild, migratory insects that are present in the forest for only part of the year.
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