Q Were bees once used to help protect various armies and people?

A: Bees have been used as weapons for defense for thousands of years. One of the earliest historical accounts (first century B.C.) that mentions bees being used against enemies involves the Heptakometes of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and Pompey the Great. With the aid of their bees, the Heptakometes knew that when bees gather pollen from such plants as rhododendron, the honey produced is loaded with alkaloids, which are harmless to bees but toxic to humans. They were able to obtain and leave a cache of poisoned honey in the path of 1000 advancing Roman soldiers.

During that time, gains from raiding and looting were part of a soldier’s pay, so the Romans naturally seized the honey and consumed it. They were soon deathly ill, and in no shape to resist the attack that followed.

The Romans also used bees, but in a more direct manner. They would catapult beehives at enemy positions. In medieval times, castles were often designed and built with beehives within the walls.

Years later, bees also played a part in the Civil War. During the Battle of Antietam, attacking Federal troops advancing through a farmyard were routed, not by the heavy gunfire they faced, but by enraged bees from hives shattered by Confederate artillery fire. There’s also a well-known case of British troops, in action in German East Africa during WWI, encountering maddened bees, but as at Antietam, the bee attacks seem to be accidental.

During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong guerillas were masters of improvised weaponry, and before attacking, were known to lob 30 or more nests of hornets and wasps into military outposts.

Q Why is Election Day held on a Tuesday?

A: This is a good question. Several years ago, the editors of the Farmers’ Almanac actually made a suggestion to change Election Day from Tuesday to Sunday, to promote greater participation. Since Sunday is not a working day for a majority of the population, it might encourage more people to find the time to go to the polls and cast their votes. Many of our readers agreed, but Election Day is still held on Tuesdays.

Election Day has been held on Tuesday ever since 1845. Back then, most Americans were farmers and many lived in very rural areas. Since the polling places were at county seats, many people had to travel far to exercise their right to vote. This travel was slow going in buggies, on horseback or by walking. Not wanting to interfere with people’s religious beliefs, Tuesday was chosen so that voters would be able to start their journeys on Monday.

The time of year of Election Day was also chosen due to the agricultural population. By November, most of the farmers had harvested all of their crops and were a lot less busy with their farming responsibilities. The first Tuesday after the first Monday was chosen as Election Day due to two reasons. First, Nov. 1 is All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. The second reason was that most merchants tried to settle their books for the proceeding month on the first of the month. With this in mind, it seems that Congress was worried about the financial impact of tallying sales and how that might affect the voting of those business people.

So even though our country has changed drastically since 1845, and farming responsibilities and travel are not the big issues they used to be, we still hold Election Day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. This year, it falls on Nov. 2.

If you have a question for the Farmers’ Almanac write to Farmers’ Almanac, P.O. Box 1609, Lewiston, ME 04241 or e-mail: [email protected]

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