With a shared interest in examining the complex societies the honey-makers create, Barbara Baer-Imhoof and Boris Baer are investigating the insects’ reproduction, ecology and immunity.
The Swiss couple came to Perth in 2005 because Australia had the last remaining healthy bees on the planet. It also had a climate that generally suits the insects and houses a large population of wild varieties.
‘After 13 years studying bees, we are still excited to get into our suits and open a colony to interact with these animals ” and they really talk to us,’ Barbara said.
‘When they are happy, their humming differs from when they feel disturbed and a healthy colony has a beautifully sweet smell of wax and honey ” sick bees smell differently.
‘Their complex societies and division of labour resembles our societies in many ways, but they are fascinatingly different also. Imagine living in a completely dark town consisting of 50,000 sisters, 2000 brothers and your mum, smelling in 3D with your feet and communicating via dances that cause the walls of your rooms to vibrate.’
The duo feature in new film More than Honey, directed by Barbara’s Oscar-nominated documentary-maker father, Marcus Imhoff.
With extraordinary footage of the insects, it highlights how the world’s bee population is diminishing by billions every year, pushing the world closer to an environmental catastrophe.
Barbara remembers a defining moment in her childhood that led her to her calling.
‘When I was a very little girl, my great-grandfather (a professional beekeeper) showed me a tin box which once held beautifully-crafted sweets his dad used to produce,’ she said.
‘He explained to me that honeybees had pollinated the blooming trees producing the fruit for the sweets.’
Barbara hopes the film will encourage moviegoers to gain respect for honeybees and see them as beautiful, interesting creatures vital for producing food.