Reprinted from The Environmentor, vol. 10 no. 1, pp 9-10

King Solomon and the Bee

There are many legends about the wisdom of King Solomon, who ruled the kingdom of Judea long ago. You may have heard how he discovered which of two women was the true mother of a baby – by threatening to cut it in half!

Sometimes, the tales say, people tried to challenge his wit. Even the Queen of Sheba tried to best him. They say that one time when she arrived for a court visit, she held out to him two beautiful garlands of flowers, one in each hand.

"One of these," she said, "contains real blossoms from my gardens. The other is a very clever copy made by my artisans. Tell us, Oh Wise King, which one is true and which is fake?"

Could he judge the difference by scent? She stood too far away for that. Besides, the copy was probably perfumed.

Surely the copy would feel dry and stiff to the touch, but that did him no good at a distance.

What could he do? But then he noticed that a honey bee had strayed into the open hall from his royal gardens. As he watched, the bee paused less than a moment near one garland – and then headed for the other one, settling into those real blossoms where she could drink nectar and gather pollen.

"That one," pointed King Solomon, and of course he was right. He was wise indeed, to take advice from a bee.


King Solomon's advisor was probably a European honey bee (Apis mellifera), the kind of bee that was later brought to our Western Hemisphere by colonists and pioneers. Some Native American peoples noticed that when these new winged neighbors arrived in their lands, larger human intruders were not far behind.

Our native bees make honey too, but they don't live in huge communal hives storing large amounts of honey. Their colonies are small and often underground. Yet, biologists find that native bees and bumble bees are far better at pollinating some crops than the imported honey bees!

Big furry bumble bees and southeastern blueberry bees practice “buzz pollination,” vibrating their wings to loosen the pollen of the flowers of tomato and pepper plants. Honey bees can't do this!

Squash bees specialize in the flowers of squashes, pumpkins, melons and gourds. Biologists estimate the 2/3 of our squashes are pollinated by squash bees, not honey bees.

Carpenter bees, sweat bees, miner bees, and leaf-cutter bees play an important role in pollinating our native plants, as well. 

And of course butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, and even bats and hummingbirds carry pollen from flower to flower, for a reward of sweet nectar. We need all of them. At least 1/3 of the food we eat requires pollinators!

“Save The Bees” is an important outcry, reminding us that the populations of all pollinators are falling drastically. Careless use of insecticides, imported insect diseases, and loss of habitat threaten them all. The native bees who nest underground are especially endangered by farming and gardening practices that leave no untilled, weedy areas for them.

The iconic European honey bee may be the poster child, but we must save all pollinators. They give us more than honey and other foods: they warn us about protecting the rest of nature.

Folktale Source:

This Talmudic tale was adapted from the writings of the Jewish poet, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, who wrote And It Came to Pass, a collection of folkloric or invented legends involving King David and King Solomon.


Science sources: