By Molly Daly

WEST CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) – There’s a swarm of beekeepers at West Chester University this week, for the annual Eastern Apicultural Conference.

The first clue that there’s something different about this event is the bee yard — more than two dozen hives — set up outside the Merion Science Building. The conference offers classes, mixers, and lectures from some of the world’s most prominent researchers into the art, science and challenges of beekeeping.

Simon Fraser University Professor Mark Winston is speaking — and writing a book called “Lessons Learned from the Bees.”

“Bees are very collaborative, they’re very cooperative, and they’re very interactive,” Winston said. “They teach us the importance of maintaining a close relationship and an understanding of the environment around us.”

Winston says their busy reputation notwithstanding, bees are lovers of leisure.

“They actually spend most of their time resting, keeping their resources marshalled for whenever they need to have those bursts of energy to collect nectar and pollen, or to defend the nest.”

Philadelphia beekeeper Suzanne Matlock says it’s important to know the difference between the normally docile honey bee, and the notoriously cranky yellow jacket, which lives in the ground.

“They are really bright yellow with black stripes, and they get confused with bees by most people. They are quite aggressive — you might run over a patch of them with your lawnmower, and then they all come out and sting you. They are the type of creature that can sting more than once,” Matlock said. “The honey bee can only sting you once, so she’s quite a reluctant one to sting you. She doesn’t want to use up her life on you if she doesn’t have to.”

Matlock says “she,” because only the female bees work. The males, called drones, don’t have stingers.

The drones, says Winston, have only one purpose. “Their only function in life, is to mate with the queen, and then they die.”

That’s a tough life.

“It is actually tough, because when you mate with the queen, your whole genitalia explode into the queen and you die, so it’s quite a dramatic ending.”

“Most women really like that story, ” he adds. “Men, not so much.”

Honey bee numbers are declining, with disease, parasite infestation, and a new class pesticides, among the suspected causes. But Winston says there are ways to help.

“Let those dandelions bloom, let the clover bloom, make sure to have some nice backyard plantings, and,” Winston adds,”please, don’t use pesticides.”

The Eastern Apicultural Society Conference runs through Friday.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild is holding a “Hive Crawl” from 9-Noon on Saturday, a free self-conducted tour that lets participants visit some urban bee hives.

“We have a map for you,” on the Guild’s website, says Matlock. “You start in West Philly at 9, and you head on your way through Fairmount by 10, and you’re in the Northwest, especially at Wyck Historic House, Farm and Garden, by 11. They’re actually having a nice festival up there, too, so you can catch two free things at the same time.”

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