Bees, Hornets and the Markets
‘Buddha, Bees and the Giant Hornet Queen’ is the title of a fascinating documentary that aired on Wednesday evening, on BBC 2 . The programme followed the life of a Japanese Giant Hornet Queen as she established a hornet colony; the colony went on to launch a military style attack on a bee-hive kept by commercial bee keepers. Over the course of a few hours, around 30,000 honey-bees were massacred by a mere handful of hornet soldiers. It wasn’t a battle, but a killing field. And why was the carnage so one-sided? The bees in question were western honey-bees, introduced by the bee-keepers because they have much higher honey production than domestic honey bees. However, because these bees had never been exposed to such a predator before, they were totally defenceless when attacked.
Domestic honey bees form a bee-ball to kill the hornet
In contrast, a local bee-keeping monk kept a hive of domestic honey bees, and when a soldier hornet came knocking on this hive, the bees knew the drill. They patiently waited for the hornet to enter the hive and then attacked, smothering the hornet in a bee ball (see picture), and literally cooking the hornet to death.
Watching this made me think about evolution and the importance of not thinking I can trade market x just because I can trade market y. Each market has its own personality, its own traps, it’s own gifts.
Is Nicholas Taleb an orchid?
Earlier in the programme, the Buddhist monk showed how he attracted the domestic honey-bees. He simply placed a certain species of orchid next to an empty hive box. Instead of producing a sweet smelling pollen, this orchid employed an altogether different strategy. The plant had evolved to produce the scent of the giant hornet. This led to a large scale attack by the domestic honey-bees, who unwittingly played their role in spreading the pollen. The plant looked worse for wear after the attack but it’s objective had been met. And the bees, when they tired of attacking the plant, found respite in the nearby hive box, which they then started using as a home.
This led me to draw another parallel, this time to Nicholas Taleb. Taleb’s new book, ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ , is being discussed at great length by the media and in the blogosphere. Some reviewers think it is a rambling non-sense, that its 400 pages are used to pad out just one central idea, and that it contains many poor examples. Taleb’s reputation as an intellectual but arrogant author also comes in to play. However, there are also several good reviews by other prominent writers.
I haven’t had contact with Taleb or his book, and I have no opinion on either, but I am amazed at how many words (pollen) are being devoted to the new book in new and old media alike. Like the orchid, Taleb seems to have niche. His personality seems to be very strong, and his work creates both critics and followers alike. This is perfect for Taleb, because the diverse opinion generates discussion. I am also led to wonder whether some people will buy his book expecting to disagree with him, with a view of being able to tell others why and where he is wrong. For Taleb, and for his books sales, it’s all effective pollen spreading.