Review: ‘Queen of the Sun’ – Forget the whales, save the bees | AspenTimes.com

Review: ‘Queen of the Sun’ – Forget the whales, save the bees

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoGerman beekeeper Gunther Friedmann appears in the documentary "Queen of the Sun," showing May 25-26 at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House.
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It’s an accepted piece of wisdom that, when the big one hits Planet Earth, the only ones who are going to be left crawling around are the insects. In the end, they are the mighty, and we are the goners.

Turns out that’s not entirely true. The honeybee – possibly the most intriguing, one of the more attractive, and almost certainly the most useful of insects – is already showing its vulnerability. For a decade or so, a phenomenon given the name colony collapse disorder has been decimating hives of honeybees in America and Europe. There have been reports that, in some areas, more than half of the population has succumbed. Most commonly, bees leaves the hive and simply don’t return.

“Queen of the Sun,” a well-made documentary by Taggart Siegel, doesn’t assign a cause to colony collapse disorder. Instead, following the standard theory, the film suggests that a combination of factors are to be blamed. Travel – an extraordinary percentage of honeybees actually “commute” to work, shipped to massive farms when pollination is required – as well as pesticides have weakened the bees, to the point where microscopic Varroa mites, already a significant threat, are able to do their damage. And there are other possible culprits: genetically modified crops, which the bees’ systems are not adapted to handle; and the commercialization of the breeding of queen bees, which seems to be playing havoc with the life span of the queens. Of course all those causes, save the mites, trace back to mankind, and more specifically, our determination to improve on nature.

As “Queen of the Sun” pitches it, this is both ironic and a shame. Ironic in that, while we aim to enhance our ability to produce food, we might actually be wiping out the guys we most desperately need to ensure our food supply. Honeybees are the primary pollinators of the world’s crops. There are other insects who pollinate, but none do it as effectively as the honeybee.

And the plight of the bees is a shame, because they go about their business with such grace and intrigue. (And beneficial byproducts: Flies and beetles might pollinate, but they aren’t going to leave us with buckets of honey in the process.) While “Queen of the Sun” spends much of its 82 minutes laying out the case of colony collapse disorder and the potential effects, it mostly lays off the alarmist tone. Instead, through conversations with beekeepers and scientists – all of whom have “alternative” practically etched on their foreheads – the film lures viewers into the cause of doing something to save the honeybees by demonstrating what fascinating and evolved creatures they are. The film lines up enthusiasts from New Zealand (which apparently has been spared from colony collapse disorder) to a rooftop in the Bronx, where a swarm, a fascinating event, happens to be caught on camera. I found that “Queen of the Sun” could have been a little more info-heavy; I’d have loved a more methodical explanation of how hives are formed, and the social dynamic that rules colonies.

Some fun facts that do emerge: Bees do a dance that precisely communicates the direction and distance from the hive where sources of nutrition can be found. The honeycombs they build are amazingly complex, logical and sturdy. A queen, once it has completed its mating flight, can lay 2,500 eggs in a single day – more than its own weight in eggs! – and repeats the process day after day.

And then there’s honey. Tombs of ancient Egyptian kings have been uncovered to reveal that they were buried with jars of honey. A few thousand years later, the honey is still edible. A beekeeping family in Australia tells of how one of their horses shredded its leg on a fence; the family treated it with applications of honey, and the wound healed completely. The vet was stunned.

And those bee stings that can send the hearty man running as quickly and with as much fear as the wee child? Chances are good it didn’t come from the relatively docile bee, but rather from the wasp, a more aggressive member of the hymenoptera order of flying insects.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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