As the Machiavellian adage goes, “it’s better to be feared than loved.” Perhaps no creatures understand this better than bees. We rely on them to pollinate our food, and most of us appreciate their importance to the natural world, but we’re still afraid of their sting. We need them, we fear them, but how many of us can say we love bees?
Lori Weidenhammer, for one. She believes we can love and protect bees without fear, and she’s looking to break the stigma. Under the pseudonym Madame Beespeaker, the Vancouver-based author, educator, and bee lover has made it her life’s work to teach others about bees.
This Friday (August 11), Weidenhammer will be at Strathcona’s Trillium Park as a part of the Vines Art Festival, leading a session called Bee Story Safari. Guests can look forward to lessons on the 56 species of pollinators that occupy the Lower Mainland, handy tips on how to approach them without being stung, and a storytelling session intended to share memorable bee encounters.
“More and more I’m taking people on bee safaris,” Weidenhammer tells the Straight in a phone interview. “First of all, I’m trying to help people get over their fear of bees, and second of all, to make them open to the idea of being friends with bees.”
While those may seem like a far-fetched concepts to bee-phobic citizens, Weidenhammer explains that many people’s conception of bees is based on honey bees—hardly representative of the diverse populations of pollinators that are found across B.C.
“We’re most familiar with the honey bee because they are an agricultural insect, moved around to pollinate orchards,” says Weidenhammer. “The truth is some of the bees play just as important roles.”
Bumblebees for example, are useful because their large bodies make them the ideal insect to shake the pollen out of tomato plants. Other species are responsible for pollinating medicinal plants. Some bee species resemble flies more than they do typical yellow-and-black striped stingers, so that Weidenhammer says “a lot of them might be in your lawn, and you may not even know that they’re there.”
Aside from learning to identify bee species and their various roles in the ecosystem, Bee Story Safari is intended to frame bees as approachable creatures. Weidenhammer mentions that male bees don’t have stingers—you can pet them after gaining their trust.
And Madame Beespeaker comes equipped with helpful catchphrases to keep people safe (other than carrying an epi-pen if you need one).
“You never mess with the nest and you don’t jive with the hive,” Weidenhammer rings off.
Most of all, Weidenhammer looks forward to the stories participants share during her sessions—particularly children, who often bring exaggeration and a whiff of fantasy to their tales, but also bring their openness to accepting bees as potential pals.
“I just ask that people come with an open mind and prepare to learn all about bees,” Weidenhammer says. “I find the more I tell people about bees, the more they fall in love with them.”
More information on Bee Story Safari and Vines Art Festival can be found here.