The Bee and the Hornet

Bees and hornets — they appear similar to many people, but they are very different insects. I’m no entomologist, yet, let me bore you with the taxonomical distinctions:

Kingdom: animalKingdom: animal
Phylum: arthropoda (exoskeleton and jointed legs)Phylum: arthropoda (exoskeleton and jointed legs)
Class: insecta (compound eyes, antennae, three part bodies)Class: insecta (compound eyes, antennae, three part bodies)
Order: hymenoptera (membraned wings)Order: hymenoptera (membraned wings)
Family: apidaeFamily: vespidae
Genus: apisGenus: vespa

Bees and hornets split taxonomically at “family”. There are then other differences. Though bees and hornets (and wasps) are all social insects, they have a different diet. Bees are “vegans.” Their diet comes exclusively from pollen (which provides their source of protein and lipids), and nectar. Hornets are omnivores: they will eat fruits, but they are also hunters — eating other insects (including bees) and scavengers — eating flesh from a dead carcass.

Rescued honey bee

Now, I will make distinctions from personal experience. Though bees will sting, I am not allergic to the venom of a bee. Hornets could kill me if I should receive enough venom from multiple stings. Thus, personally, I make the distinction that bees are “good” because there is no threat from them. However, hornets are “bad” because they could kill me. Based on this I could be justified to kill every hornet that comes within striking distance: “It’s you or me!” Or, to use the title of both a McCartney song and Bond movie in which it was heard: “Live and let die!”

When mowing the lawn, I will patiently wait for bees (of all varieties) to fly off the flowering weed they occupy before moving forward on the lawn tractor/mower. I wish them no harm, especially since their numbers are declining. I avoid hornets (often wishing them death). During a brief vacation in late August, 2021, while my wife and I stayed at a wonderful “B and B” in Lewiston, Idaho (Prospet Manor) which offered a swimming pool, there was a bee in the pool. I assumed it could not escape the water. I cupped my hands and lifted it out of the water and set it on the pool’s deck (above photo). Moments later I spotted a hornet in the water –sure death by drowning if not rescued from the water. Dare I also save it from sure death? I pondered the ethical dilemma. I observed again the friendly, good bee. It was grooming itself. I smiled at its behavior. I looked at the “evil” hornet. It would want life as did the bee. Why should I not rescue it? I cupped my hands around it and brought it out of the water onto the pool’s deck. I got out of the pool and sat near the good, safe bee, but a very safe distance from the bad, menacing hornet (which I did not photograph!). Within a few minutes, both flew away. I noted that my “irrational kindness” to the hornet was, evidently, no threat to my life.

So, I come to this day and time, and our perceived assessments of our fellow humans. We all have the tendency, or the temptation, to put people into convenient categories of “good” and “bad; “safe” and “unsafe.” We distinguish often by appearances. We now even judge on the basis a political slogan, of even if someone is masked or unmasked in these deranged days. This is contrary to the ways of God who does not judge on appearances, and is no respecter of status. St. Paul gives us this directive: “Let your gentleness (or forbearance) be made know to all men, for the Lord is near” (Phil 4: 5). And in her Divine Liturges we pray understanding that God is God of all and is able to transform us all:

Preserve the good in goodness, and make the evil be good by Thy goodness… Remember, O Lord our God, all those who entreat Thy great loving-kindness; those who love us and those who hate us…(from the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil)

Among us every day there are bees and hornets. In wisdom we should stay away from both bee hives and hornet nests unless properly protected and experienced. Humans aren’t as easily identified as these insects, though we are to act wisely, even prudently among our fellow citizens at times. However, in all honesty, we may make errors in our assessments based upon appearances — some we see as “bees” may be “hornets” in disguise, and the opposite being true as well. Be ready to assist and aid any one that can be helped. I again quote St. Paul “…always pursue the good, both for one another [the faithful] and for all [the rest of humanity]” (1 Thes 5: 15).

In Christ,

Fr. Irenaeus

2 Comments on “The Bee and the Hornet”

  1. Alan Orsborn says:

    Kind of like a fable, natural history with a lesson in not judging others.


  2. Fr. Irenaeus says:

    Thanks for the comment!


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