I Want To Beelieve
June 17, 2020 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Steve Byrne investigates the curious case of the too-good-to-be-true beekeeper heart honeycomb image. "[This is] what we call Internet Folklore, where stories spread and change quicker than ever, and involve communities of people experiencing a simple yet heartwarming tale ... On the internet, search behind what you see. Don't take things at face value. Don't let your "aww" gene get in the way of thinking, hmm, is this for real? Because there are people out there who seek to use such kindly human instincts in unkind ways."
posted by adrianhon (30 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating to see how the bee’s were made to make the heart.
posted by interogative mood at 6:51 AM on June 17, 2020

Maybe it's a touch of trypophobia, but that image looks disgusting to me. Less heartwarming and more heartworming.
posted by echo target at 6:58 AM on June 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

That's really cool he was able to track down the actual story on this. A lot of times, it's practically impossible due to language barriers or the originally content being deleted or both. I also find it more interesting that beekeepers can manipulate bees into making cool art rather than bees just randomly making a shape that happens to look like a heart. I'd like to see more of this "beekeeper art."
posted by Stargazey at 7:04 AM on June 17, 2020 [11 favorites]

In a similar vein - there's someone just outside my facebook circle that posted this video in April, saying that "This 3 min. film has won the Oscar for the best animated movie." But if you watch the video, just from the quality alone it's pretty clear that there is no way in HELL it would have been an Oscar winner. Fortunately a lot of the comments are calling BS on that - but equally as many comments are buying into it.

This may be an urban legend that is in my particular pet interest so I may be a bit overinvested and I admit that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

I blame a lot of this "this won an Oscar" BS on the newfangled way of using "literally' to mean 'not literally, but emphatically", and now they just drop 'literally' entirely and assume it's implied.
posted by The otter lady at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I also find it more interesting that beekeepers can manipulate bees into making cool art rather than bees just randomly making a shape that happens to look like a heart.

This sort of thing is possible because bees require a specific amount of space between combs, to allow them just enough room to work and move between them. That space is called the bee space. Bees will in fact make squiggles and curves in natural comb if allowed to - though probably nothing like the photo - and will attach the comb to the top, sides, and finally bottom of whatever container they find themselves in. But in between the combs, they will always maintain the bee space.

Before this concept of a set amount of bee space was discovered, the only way to raise bees was to give them a big empty thing to hang out in for a year and then completely destroy the hive at the end of the year, because how else would you get the comb out? It's attached at the top, bottom, and sides!

The modern Langstroth hive was invented to take advantage of the bee space by creating a set of removable, flat frames just wide enough apart that the bees would fill them in with comb, but not connect them together. Turns out, once you know how bees are "programmed" to create comb, you can manipulate those rules to get them to make comb in whatever shape you want - it's just that the shape people normally want is a flat rectangle. The original creator of the heart simply employed the same concept behind the Langstroth hive to make a different shape. (If it's not clear from the article, the heart would have been created upside-down, with the form lying flat atop the hive structure and the comb hanging vertically toward the ground.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2020 [32 favorites]

> the newfangled way of using "literally' to mean 'not literally, but emphatically",

The use of "literally" as an emphatic way of saying "figuratively" is a cherished literary tradition found in the work of Charlotte Brontë and other major authors whose works were published before any Mefite was born.
posted by ardgedee at 8:43 AM on June 17, 2020 [13 favorites]

Beekeepers are bee-adjacent folks are wonderful and weird. When I was in the local association, I remember someone asking a slightly-woo-oriented question of the club president, who himself looked like 'aging hippie' straight out of central casting.

"Look, " he said. "They're just bugs."
posted by jquinby at 9:20 AM on June 17, 2020 [28 favorites]

"Look, " he said. "They're just bugs."

My first season, my class had been taught to how handle bees without gloves or even necessarily bee suits, just smokers. Non-africanized bees are gentle enough that they will rarely sting you if you know what you're doing.

Until autumn. Then they switch from "gather the bounty" mode to "protect the spoils at all costs" mode. Which our teacher deliberately did not tell us, because he wanted us to observe it for ourselves. By getting stung.

This was plenty hilarious all by itself, but the real galaxy brain moment was when I opened up a hive that turned out to be weak in comparison to the other hives around it. Suddenly I noticed several duos of bees rolling around on the ground as if wrestling. I asked the teacher and he told me that bees from stronger hives were attempting to murder the weaker hive's bees so they could steal all their honey. (They can sting each other, and even small animals like mice and lizards, without dying.) That's when I went from thinking of them as my fuzzy little friends to thinking of them as I ought to have been - as wild animals which happen to tolerate humans under a certain set of circumstances. They are not truly domesticated. They will, and frequently do, fuck off into the woods if they don't like the house you gave them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:37 AM on June 17, 2020 [60 favorites]

Btw, this is not the Steve Byrne who is a US comedian.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:51 AM on June 17, 2020

They are not truly domesticated.

I'd get asked all the time: Do they know you? Do you talk to them? And so on.

No. I worked without gloves (until, yeah, autumn) because I knew how to not piss them off. But it didn't matter. If they start to ramp up in the middle of an inspection, you're done. You close it all up and get the hell gone.
posted by jquinby at 10:01 AM on June 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

Now I want to force a spiral and see if the bees construct a short cut that cuts across the loops.
posted by Mitheral at 11:28 AM on June 17, 2020

Now I want to force a spiral and see if the bees construct a short cut that cuts across the loops.

Check out Hilary Berseth's Programmed Hives series! The how-to is here.

As is typically done in commercial beekeeping and often in hobbyist beekeeping, he achieved greater control by providing textured wax foundation sheets which the bees then built the comb on, rather than letting them construct it entirely on their own. (The beekeeper who made the heart from the OP did not do this.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

My cousin's neighbor has a friend who does genetic engineering work and is also an amateur beekeeper. He spliced DNA sequences gleaned from a spork used by Sir Roger Penrose into his hives’ queen bee. Not long after he opened the hive to discover this breathtaking comb pattern.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:50 PM on June 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

echo target: I agree; this entire thread is a big trypophobia-no for me.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2020

Some people complain when viral misinformation like this is debunked, as if you're ruining something for them, and you're a grinch for doing it because the lie is so harmless.

But the real story is cool and interesting! I enjoyed finding out about the South African beekeeper (who lives in the same province as I do!) who made a beeswax artwork dedicated to his wife, and how he did it. I think he deserves the credit, just like any artist whose work is carelessly (or deliberately) spread around social media with the signature cropped off.

Artist attribution aside, the same lack of critical thinking that drives people to spread these kinds of harmless viral stories also leads them to spread conspiracy theories and COVID-19 misinformation, fall for phishing scams, and the like. Which is why I have such a viscerally negative reaction even to something this minor.

When I saw this earlier today it made me think about feel-good viral untruths and why people love to believe in them.

For example: I don't remember there ever being a point in my childhood when I believed in Santa Claus (my parents had to explain to me that other children did, in order to avoid major faux pas during Christmas gatherings, not always successfully). In my family, Santa Claus was a fun pretend game that we all played: everyone got a present for everyone else (children have no income, obviously, so all of my gifts were handmade arts and crafts), we put them all under the tree, and while I'm pretty sure that it was obvious to the adults who was responsible for which gift, it was Not Done to admit it -- if someone tried to thank you, you laughed it off and said the gift was "from Santa".

In retrospect this was probably a character-building experience which promoted the value of selfless giving, but I didn't really think about it too deeply as a child -- I just loved making things and surprising my relatives with them. I don't feel that I was robbed of some kind of magical experience because I never believed that my presents were brought to me by a mythological figure, and it certainly didn't affect my love of imaginative play.

But some people apparently think that you're some kind of monster if you don't encourage your child to believe that Santa Claus is real, and also experience considerable parental anxiety over the proper time to inform children that in fact he isn't. I find this really bizarre.
posted by confluency at 4:30 PM on June 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

I grew up getting Christmas presents about equally from Santa and "from [name of one of our cats]" and noticed fairly early that all the handwriting on the cards was the same as my mom's. Somehow I don't feel emotionally scarred by it.
posted by Lexica at 5:54 PM on June 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

So is social media patterning us as well?
posted by blue shadows at 10:23 PM on June 17, 2020

I wrote the "from Santa" tags in cursive, the ones from us in print.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:53 PM on June 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

The otter lady: "I blame a lot of this "this won an Oscar" BS on the newfangled way of using "literally' to mean 'not literally, but emphatically", and now they just drop 'literally' entirely and assume it's implied."

You mean the 300 year old newfangled way?
posted by signal at 7:20 AM on June 18, 2020

Okay, yes, Dickens did it and so forth, this is not a new observation (in this very thread, even). Usage certainly does seem have increased in recent years, though, and there are times when it can lend itself to confusion - "I could literally just die" is clear. "But I literally just went to the store" is less so - did you walk in the door from the store 5 seconds ago, or had you gone yesterday, but you normally only go weekly, so it seems recent?

I don't think it is presriptivism to say that clarity of meaning is important.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:09 AM on June 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's not a new observation because people have been doing it for 300 years, and, presumably, others have been complaining about it for almost as long.
posted by signal at 8:58 AM on June 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

And, just FYI, the 'original' sense of literally is 'of, relating to, or expressed in letters'.
posted by signal at 9:08 AM on June 18, 2020

Sure, but the ambiguity in that I literally just went to the store has nothing to do with the word "literally," which is clearly being used as an intensifier. Just doesn't have some strict definition of seconds ago so the strict definition of literal would have no meaning in that sentence.

I say this as someone for whom "literally" is one of my few remaining prescriptivist hot buttons (along with irregardless, simple vs. simplsitic, and less vs. fewer, if you're curious). I need to bite my tongue when I hear someone misusing these words. Figuratively speaking.

The rare cases it is ambiguous would be when someone has actually done something that is often used metaphorically. Maybe you've done something exactly a million times. Maybe you were placed on hold at 12:00 AM and here it is 3 PM and you're still waiting so it's literally been all day. You might easily be misunderstood.

My all time favorite case still remains a radio caller, many years ago, a sincere earnest women who phoned in to decry government intolerance and said when she discussed this she literally wrapped herself in the Constitution. I am convinced to this day that she made this call wrapped in a big novelty parchment .
posted by mark k at 9:08 AM on June 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Literally is actually an illustrious member of the Contranym family.
That link might literally blow your mind.
posted by signal at 9:39 AM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

A hill I will die on is that literally is not a contranym, despite frequent claims by educated people to the contrary.

Its two meanings are not "literally" and "metaphorically." The second meaning is rather for emphasis or intensification of some sentiment, not to mark that a phrase is being used in a figurative sense.
posted by mark k at 9:53 AM on June 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, this isn't the first time we've done a loop on figurative use of literally and we don't need to start from scratch again right here. Let's let that drop and tack more beeward, maybe.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

Or hey let's all look at that movie again, how could anyone mistake this for Oscar-winning caliber?

Or since the whole thing with the bees was about a pattern that supposedly "naturally" occurred, let's check out some patterns which actually did occur naturally. Like the fractals in Romanesco broccoli, for instance, or the spirals in this aloe. Honestly, those are so freakin' cool I don't know why more people aren't more excited about those, you know?

I was about to ask why people would mock up a pattern in the natural world, but then I thought of another couple instances of people doing that - they never passed them off as "naturally occurring", but rather as man-made, to make a statement. One of the more moving examples was something I read where one of the islands in the South Pacific was working on an oyster re-seeding program, creating artificial reefs seeded with adult oysters placed close enough together that they could interbreed and create a new larger colony. The people responsible for designing the placement of the artificial reefs not only worked on making sure it was in a safe location, they added an artistic touch - they designed the reefs so the shape spelled out the word "parents".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on June 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't know why more people aren't more excited about those, you know?

I am! I love that shit, and the older I get, the more amazed I am. One day my tiny head will explode.

And regular old honey comb. A beekeeper friend asked us, "Why does the honey stay in the comb while it's being filled?" Ummm, I don't know - Why? "Because the cells are angled down at ~15 degrees, which keeps the honey from flowing out at normal temperatures." They're little geometricians, I'll tell you what.
posted by sneebler at 1:45 PM on June 19, 2020

Check out Hilary Berseth's Programmed Hives series! The how-to is here.

This is amazing!
posted by sneebler at 1:49 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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