Current Affairs
Why is bee venom more expensive than gold?

Maltese beekeepers have started experimenting with electronic technology in order to observe the activities of their bees.

On the World Day dedicated to Bees, Maltese beekeepers said they do this in order not to interrupt the bees during their natural process. At the same time, they also collect bee venom, which fetches three times as much as gold on the international market.

Mario Sant is the fourth generation beekeeper in his family. “I breed the Maltese bee, known as Apis Mellifera Ruttneri,” Sant, a member of the Maltese Beekeepers Association, explained.

This tradition was started by his great-grandfather 122 years ago, using tools and skills going back to the Phoenicians and the Romans, including the earthenware qolla, an open-ended clay pot, where the bees raise their young and produce honey.

“This is the entry point for the bees, who produce their honey inside, and when the honey was harvested, this tool was used,” Sant pointed out.

This tool is still used by his 90-year-old father when he visits the apiary. Boxes are now used instead of the earthenware pots, and as of some months ago, some of them are not even being opened to observe the activity inside.

This because the Association has resorted to an experimental electronic monitoring system with the aid of funds acquired through the Council for Voluntary Work, as explained by the beekeeper and researcher Adrian Bugeja Douglas.

“It gives us the date of the weight, and we know whether the bees are taking in honey and building and if the temperature is constant, the amount of humidity inside, as well as the volume of noise. Which means that if a box is beset by illness, the activity will be reduced, the weight will go down and the noise of the bees will lessen. We will know what is happening without having to open the box.”

The electronic system also collects bee venom, which sells for phenomenal prices. “It was recently discovered that bee venom is effective against arthritis and clinical research is being carried out abroad. A gram of gold sells at $40, a gram of bee venom fetches $120 on the international market – three times as much.”

Before leaving the tranquil environment in the limits of Għargħur, we were told by Mr Bugeja Douglas that the greater part of the work in the box is done by one sex only. “The women do the work, and the men – the drones – do nothing. They don’t even eat as they are fed, and their only activity is for reproductive purposes with the queen bee.”

Some years ago the United Nations declared the 20th May as the day dedicated to bees, with the aim of promoting bee conservation, an important link in the food chain.