A honey bee, in contrast with the stingless honey bee, is any member of the genus Apis, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests from wax. Honey bees are the only extant members of the tribe Apini, all in the genus Apis. Currently, only seven species of honey bee are recognized, with a total of 44 subspecies, though historically, from six to eleven species have been recognized.

“I hear frequencies. I hear the sound of the constant force of energy of electrostatic discharges. I hear other sounds within those sounds. The pitches and the tones change, but the essence of the sounds I am forced to endure 24/7 is pretty well defined and…becomes more refined,” says Demetria Hardin of San Joaquin Valley, California.

Burnside points out how, as colony collapse disorder decimates hives worldwide, poets and artists are revealing anew the multifaceted relationship of the bee and us. The subtly beautiful limited-edition art book Melissographia, a collaboration between Burnside and British multimedia artist Amy Shelton, for instance, interweaves poems, pollen maps, botanical samples and illustrations.

Amy Shelton is the Director of Research for the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and a Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the School of Education (SOE) at the Johns Hopkins University. She holds a joint appointment in the School of Medicine and serves on the steering committees for the university-wide Science of Learning Initiative.

Shelton notes on her website that she works in the “strong artistic tradition in England of ‘unseen landscapes’” by focusing on the beehive — “a locus of wildness fusing with human culture”. The light box installations of Shelton’s Florilegium: Honeyflow illuminate scores of nectar-rich wildflower specimens in the order they bloom through the bee season — in the process spotlighting the loss of 97% of Britain’s wildflower meadows in the past 75 years.

When archaeologists opened an 18th Dynasty Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Kings, they made a startling discovery. There, amid furniture, vehicles and other funerary artifacts they discovered vessels full of honey. It had crystallized but was still edible. Honey that was over three thousand years old was not only still in the tomb it was still edible and had not spoiled in any way.

Crane’s research points to the Aegean as a fountainhead of beekeeping. I recently had a visceral reminder of the region’s elemental and ongoing link to bees in Mani, one of the tattered ribbons of land that blow south from the Peloponnese. It was the hum of millions of honeybees at work round the wooden hives of village cooperatives. Apis mellifera, still only half-tamed, remains at home in this ferocious landscape. While many cultures simply looked for honey in the nests of wild bees, the ancient Chinese actually developed beekeeping. It has been mentioned in texts dating from the spring and autumn period which lasted from 771 BCE to 453 BCE. In the books, which were written by Fan Li, tips for keeping bees successfully were mentioned. Fan Li, an advisor living in the Chinese state of Yue, stated that the quality of the wooden box used to house the bees was important. He stated that it could affect the quality of the honey that the bees produced.