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The "bees" of my world are not insects, but instead are a race of tiny bird-people, no more than an inch tall. They can make honey and wax with rather mundane means, not much different from making bread or cloth. It is a rather imprecise art, with every nest having a rather unique recipe. Furthermore, the bees are quite humanoid, with not much differences outside of size and personality. The 'secrets' of making these substances are not very well-kept, nor are they that complex. Despite this, no member of another race has learned to make either honey or beeswax.

What is the best explanation for the exclusivity of these arts?

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  • $\begingroup$ This reads like you're looking for help brainstorming rather than asking a specific answerable question. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Well, 0.9 seconds of googling reveals that some kinds of ants and wasps also make honey, so that's something for you to think about. Why isn't the answer to your question "because the families keep their recipes guarded"? Kind of like how people at a church picnic will say something like "I really must your coleslaw recipe!" which gets the response "oh, that's Great Grandmother's secret recipe!" Anyone in your world còuld make honey, just as we còuld make coleslaw, but no one does. It's easier to get it from someone who's good at making it. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings It's asking for the best (most explanatory and unconvoluted) explanation. There's only one answer that satisfies those criteria, and there isn't much wriggle room when deciding which is that answer $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ As written, how do you reckon that there is only one best answer? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas by the very definition of the "best" term. Would any other bestter under the same circumstances, it will become the best :) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 22:41

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Humans Already Know How To Make Beeless Honey, But We Don't

The way bees make honey is to collect flower nectar, then they add the enzyme invertase which breaks down the sucrose in the nectar into glucose and fructose, then they fan it with their wings until it becomes partially dehydrated. This is actually very similar to how humans already make a lot of our own sugary syrups. If humans wanted to make our own honey, we could easily mass produce enough invertase from yeast to recreate the whole process and make true bee-less honey, and in the case of your setting, your humanoid bees could simply rely on yeast instead of eating and throwing up nectar to achieve your "mundane" honey production.

So, what's the problem then?

It's a matter of scale. Have you ever tried extracting nectar from a flower? Using our big human hands it takes a LOT of flowers to get a usable amount of nectar for making honey. You could spend all day gathering enough to sweeten a single slice of bread. But to a bee or humming bird, each flower contains a whole mouth full of the stuff. So, while a human sized humanoid might know how to make the honey, it's just not cost efficient enough to be worth it. Honey's unique taste comes from the many different compounds you find in flower nectar specifically, so substituting nectar with other syrups that are more easily mass produced at human scales will not produce honey.

Instead of using our big human selves to milk flowers, we instead find it much more economically sustainable to just grow the flowers and let the bees do the hard part of visiting all the blossoms it takes to make a decent jar of the stuff. Then we just charge them a "tax" for letting them use our field of flowers. Cultivating dense fields of flowers is too hard for bees. Milking those flowers is too hard for humans, but by working together both races can benefit. This is how it works in the real world, and how it can work in yours.

What about bees wax?

This is a bit more complicated. Bees wax is a natural bodily secretion of bees kind of like how we sweat. They secrete it, chew it up, and then apply. If you want your bees to have a more mundane way of making wax, then we need to look to other sources of the stuff. Whatever source you choose should likewise follow the "matter of scale" principle if you want those pesky giant humanoids to rely on bees for it. The best bet for this would be the top surfaces of leaves. Pretty much all deciduous plants have a natural layer of wax on the top-sides of their leaves to prevent dehydration. This layer of wax it too thin on most plants to be economically viable for human collection, but again, bees are small, so to them small things are big. What to us is a 1mm coating to a bee could be enough to need a shovel to scope off.

So in your setting, bees wax could actually be something more similar to Ligustrum or Carnauba wax, but perhaps relying on some less waxy plant that would not be economical for humans to harvest ourselves.

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  • $\begingroup$ Bees will happily make honey from sugar syrup, if provided with it. And yet: (1) the honey is different from sugar syrup (2) nobody other species will make the sugar syrup into bee-honey. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Humans make honey-like things from a lot of different sources, and they all taste different. Maple syrup is different than corn syrup which is different than cane syrup. They all impart unique flavors from where you get the sugar from. Some flowers (like honey suckle) already have very honey like nectars before you get to them. If you were to cook down their nectar into a syrup, you'd get something almost indistinguishable from bee honey. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ True, but what does this prove? My point was "Honey isn't necessary about bees collecting nectar from flowers in a way humans cannot afford to, due to the scale of things. Because, look, bees can make honey from bulk sugar syrup; humans could access that syrup as easy as the bees, yet humans can't make honey from bulk sugar syrup" $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi Looked it up, and no, they can not make honey from sugar syrup. They can live off of it, they even store it like honey, but it does not become honey. honeybeesuite.com/turning-syrup-into-honey $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 14:36
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Venom (and symbiosis):

Your world actually has TWO kinds of bees; humanoid-bees and insect-bees. But the two are deeply intertwined and often thought of together.

The insect-bees in your world are REALLY nasty. No, not mean - poisonous. Like deadly neurotoxin poisonous. Terrestrial bee stings are mellow affairs compared to these guys. While insect-bees are essential for agriculture and everyone knows it, humans and their like actively discourage nests too close to people. Because a sting is likely to disable or kill you.

Your humanoid-bees are virtually immune to insect-bee stings. They are the only ones that can safely approach insect-bees. Due to the lethality of stings, insect-bees in your world are also fairly mellow - after all, few things mess with insect-bees. Further, your humanoid-bees are actively symbiotic with insect-bees, guiding nest formation in the best spots (possibly building nesting boxes), dropping flower seeds, and perhaps even influencing insect-bee breeding to select for bees that ignore and tolerate humanoid-bees. Humanoid-bees fight giant murder hornets that the insect-bees are helpless against (and which humanoid-bees are also resistant to the toxins of).

Other species are good with this arrangement - your humanoid-bees make sure crops are fertilized, well-marked nests are kept away from settlements (or moved as needed), and humanoid-bees provide a ready supply of honey and bee's wax to meet the needs of others.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Ftalenthouse_es%2Fstatus%2F1209311487724011520&psig=AOvVaw29rBQ68jI5k_0bUCIZ2aGc&ust=1633216658926000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAgQjRxqFwoTCIDzzK6sqvMCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAD

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Only the bee-people bodies secrete (as sweat? as saliva? from a special gland?) the appropriate enzymes that allow the stuff they use in input to transform in honey/wax - anybody else outside their species may try the very same procedures and input and they will fail for the lack of the catalyzing action the enzymes provide.

Even more, the ratio of the secreted enzymes has a variability for bee-person to bee-person (or bee-nest to bee-nest), this is why the every nest have "a rather unique recipe".

See also propolis as an example of bee-specific substance no other species replicate

Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax...

Provides protection from pathogens, via anti-fungal and antibacterial properties...

The composition of propolis varies from hive to hive, from district to district, and from season to season.

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