Retired teachers stay busy as bees

Kyodo

Five people in their 70s to 90s from Fukui Prefecture have been chasing and collecting bees for more than half a century, contributing to the discovery of rare species.

All five of the former teachers studied the life of bees under Fukui University professor Katsuji Tsuneki (1908-1994), an expert in the field.

Tadao Murota, 72, and Chizuko Nozaka, 80, from the city of Sabae; Hideyoshi Kurokawa, 75, and Tadashi Tano, 76, both from the city of Fukui; and Yoshito Haneda, 92, from Ono; hunt bees four days a week from spring to fall whenever possible.

By collecting and researching bees, they hope to monitor the environment so they can pass down a rich legacy of nature to future generations.

“Human beings benefit from nature and insects, but many of us are not aware of it,” Murota said.

One morning in early April, three of them gathered outside a shrine near Lake Kitagata in northern Fukui, wearing jumpers, long boots and caps or sedge hats, and holding nets as tall as themselves.

“Kuro-chan! Something is flying,” Nozaka said to Kurokawa, using his nickname.

Kurokawa looked carefully at what seemed to be a bee. Murota, meanwhile, who had been looking at cherry blossoms, swung out with his net and caught it.

Murota placed the bee in a test tube and took a close look at it.

“This is not what we were looking for. The wind is cold and they may not have gotten out of the ground yet,” he said.

They said Tsuneki often told them that “to observe nature is to think about human beings.” He also emphasized the importance of getting out into the great outdoors.

Even after they had graduated, the obedient students climbed mountains in neighboring Toyama and Gifu prefectures during their holidays in search of various kinds of bees. Once they retired as teachers, they flew to remote islands in Okinawa, China and Myanmar.

“It was hard for us to find time to go out while working as teachers, but we were able to continue as we are good friends who can encourage each other,” Murota said.

“As we have come this far, I would like us to continue further to learn more about bees,” said Nozaka.

The five brought samples of parasitic bees they collected during the 1950s through 1980s to researchers at Kobe University.

Seven species were confirmed for the first time on Honshu and 184 species were confirmed for the first time in Fukui Prefecture. Their discoveries were published in a scientific magazine last May.

In April they found a kind of bee that the Environment Ministry said it had little information about. The five have also helped update a list of endangered species in Fukui Prefecture.

The rare species they have discovered are currently preserved at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, while more than 500 of their samples are being featured in a display at the Fukui City Museum of Natural History from March 23 to May 26.