What The Legislature Doesn’t Know About Bees Could Fill A Blog

by Allen Matkins

As a once and future beekeeper, I’m bemused by the California legislature’s inept efforts to legislate apiculture.  Section 29414 of the California Food & Agricultural Code, for example, defines “honeybees” as ” honey-producing insects of the genus Apis mellifica”.  There are at least two mistakes in this short definition.

Keep Forests Clean, Often Fires Get Started

First, Apis mellifica designates a species, not a genus.  Under the system of binomial nomenclature developed by Carl Linnaeus (later known as Carl von Linné), plants and animals are named according to their genus and species.  These fall within the increasingly broader taxonomic groups of family, order, class, phylum and kingdom.  Thus, apis denotes a genus of bees.  There are, in fact, other genera of bees, such as stingless bees (Melipona) and bumble bees (Bombus).  Apis in Latin means bee but the word is a bit of an etymological mystery as it is unrelated to similar words in other Indo-European languages.  For example, the Greek homophone “Ἆπις” means bull, not bee.

Second, the common honeybee is a member of the species mellifera not mellifica.  Linnaeus  bestowed the name apis mellifera on the honeybee in the tenth edition of Systema Naturae (1758).  Translated into English, the name means honey carrying bee.  The species name mollifier has prevailed even though Linnaeus himself recognized that mellifica was the more accurate descriptor:

Three years later he named it apis mellifica, probably because he recognized that the name first given was erroneous, for the bee does not carry in honey but nectar.  It is, therefore, not a carrier of honey (mellifera), but a maker of honey (mellifica).

Gleanings in Bee Culture, 224 n. 6 (Feb. 15, 1908).  Ultimately, the American Entomological Society ruled apis mellifera to be the correct name.

Τί Ἐπιτελέσει Ὁ Θεόσ?

I was a subscriber to, and fan of, Gleanings in Bee Culture.  The magazine was published by the A.I. Root Company of Medina, Ohio.  The January 1, 1905 edition wasn’t limited to bees, however.  Remarkably, it contained the first published magazine account of powered human flight.  Below is an excerpt from the article, which began by quoting Numbers 23:23 and then described the first powered airplane to complete a circular course :

I am now going to tell you something of two . . . boys, a minister’s boys, who love machinery, and who are interested in the modern developments of science and art.  Their names are Orville and Wilbur Wright, of Dayton, Ohio. . . .

Other experiments had to be made in turning from right to left; and, to make the matter short, it was my privilege, on the 20th day of September, 1904, to see the first successful trip of an airship, without a balloon to sustain it, that the world has ever made, that is, to turn the corners and come back to the starting-point.

Gleanings in Bee Culture, 36-39 (Jan. 1, 1905).  Root hadn’t witnessed the first flight in December 1903 but had written about the Wrights in the March 1, 1904 issue of Gleanings, proclaiming that the brothers had “outstripped the world in demonstrating that a flying machine can be constructed without the use of a balloon”.

IMG_0750 (2) copy

My copy of A.I. Root’s “ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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