Intoxicated bees have been busted flying under the influence around Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra, the nation’s capital.
Parliament’s head beekeeper (yes, the Australian government has a head beekeeper), Cormac Farrell provided a fascinating Twitter thread on why the Aussie bees appeared to be drunk. Turns out, because they were!
According to Farrell, the bees people have spotted either stumbling around or dropping out of the sky are drunk on fermented flower nectar thanks to Australia’s weather heating up as summer begins.
Unfortunately, it’s not just a bit of summer fun for the bees, it can have a seriously detrimental effect on both individuals and the hive. Bees that fly drunk often have accidents, die of alcohol poisoning, or can’t find their way home and find themselves vulnerable.
Even if they do make it home, hoping to sleep it off for a few hours, beehives have a strictly no-drinking policy so bees that have imbibed are refused entry by “bouncers,” and are even attacked by the sober bees.
It’s thought the intoxicated bees are denied entry to prevent the honey from fermenting, which could destroy the whole colony. However, Farrell pointed out, there is a good side to all this. The honey makes excellent booze for humans.
As Farrell showed off in the thread, Australia's Parliament House makes both honey mead and honey vodka from its five resident beehives, which are often presented as gifts to foreign dignitaries. Set up by the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Australian National University's Apiculture Society, the hives were installed in the building’s surrounding landscape in 2017 as a student-led initiative in bee management.
The initiative is part of a global effort to tackle the decline in bee populations, which are crucial to ecosystems, environmental sustainability, and future food security.
Curiously, Farrell points out, this drunken behavior only seems to happen to the exotic honeybee, which was introduced from the UK and other European countries 190 years ago, rather than native Australian bees, of which there are over 2,000 species. The implication being it’s not just Brits on holiday that can’t hold their liquor.
Farrell also leaves us with one last fun fact: where the term “honeymoon” comes from. It refers to the fifth-century European tradition of the newlywed couple drinking mead – a boozy drink made from fermenting honey with water, and adding hops, grains, spices, etc – during a moon cycle – the first month of marriage.