Our garden has plenty of flowers and plenty of bees. Obviously, the two are not unrelated. The flowers (and fruit trees) do better because there are so many bees. And the bees do better because there are so many flowers. And, here I am — mainly not working so hard as either one but enjoying them both.
It was not always so. As a child, I was stung a few times by bees and wasps and became quite wary of them. At one point, my family moved and my walk to school the very first day took me through a field of September wildflowers that was filled with bees and wasps of various types. (By the way, there are noticeably fewer insects in the world than when I was a child.) Anyway, I walked through that field very carefully, afraid with each step that I might get stung. Then, one day as I stood there calculating whether to slowly move a goldenrod stem with its huge blue wasp or whether it would be better to wait until the wasp flew away. But even if I waited, it was pretty likely that some other species of stinging insect would soon alight.
And then, it happened.
It occurred to me that I was causing myself more pain by worrying about getting stung than the pain would be if I actually got stung. From then on, I still tried not to annoy the bees, but I walked through the field swiftly and without fear.
I never did get stung.
Fast forward nearly 70 years, and I now talk to the bees in the garden when I happen upon one. They are fun to watch. In their own way, they are every bit as remarkable in their performances as is a professional dancer, or a professional tennis player, or an Olympic gymnast. Just as required by those humans, their beauty is crafted in three dimensions and in real time. The bee, however, is simultaneously working six limbs, not four; she is also working her antenna, and often her mandibles as well.
The other day, I was out taking pictures of flowers and I happened to notice a honeybee fly into the thick green foliage of our mulberry bush. I said to her, “Well, you’re a bit late. The flowers are all gone and now there’s fruit but it’s not ripe yet.” Then, I began to wonder whether she was there simply to take a nap. On several occasions, I had come across bees napping in flowers. But no. As I began to watch her, it was apparent that she was quite busy doing…
…something. But what? I had never seen a bee act like this. Why not watch this short movie and see what you think she’s up to? Then, you might want to watch again. This time, instead of doing your detective work, just enjoy the show. Imagine this cute little bee as a professional dancer or athlete. Revel in her speed, rhythm, coordination and beauty.
Then come back, to learn a little more about bees.
I posted the movie on various fora that know about bees and from looking at the answers posted (thank you!) and reading on-line, I have come to the conclusion that she is most likely collecting plant resin that will be helpful in producing propolis. Have you ever heard of propolis? I had not. Here’s a bit about it.
From the Abstract from NIH article.
Propolis is a natural resinous mixture produced by honey bees from substances collected from parts of plants, buds, and exudates. Due to its waxy nature and mechanical properties, bees use propolis in the construction and repair of their hives for sealing openings and cracks and smoothing out the internal walls and as a protective barrier against external invaders like snakes, lizards, and so forth, or against weathering threats like wind and rain. Bees gather propolis from different plants, in the temperate climate zone mainly from poplar. Current antimicrobial applications of propolis include formulations for cold syndrome (upper respiratory tract infections, common cold, and flu-like infections), wound healing, treatment of burns, acne, herpes simplex and genitalis, and neurodermatitis.
Look at that list of uses of propolis! That alone should encourage us to want to save the bees. Not to mention that they benefit us by making our world yummier and more beautiful! In reading about bees and propolis, I also discovered that the worker bees in a hive have a regular sequence of jobs. They are not just foragers. They are cleaners, child-bee care workers, builders, defenders, and finally foragers. Here’s a link that describes that and more about honeybees.
The more general point is this:
When it comes to life, the more I learn about a particular type of animal or plant, the more remarkable I realize it is. And, that does not just apply to the honeybee. It’s true of all life. Recently, scientists have discovered that trees communicate and cooperate in very sophisticated ways! We know honeybees communicate information to other members of the tribe about food sources, plentifulness, and type. Do they tell stories as well? In the middle of the night, right before the hive goes to sleep, do the foragers tell their tales about the joys and wonders and dangers of the world outside the hive to the janitors, nurse-maids, plumbers, and plasterers? When a bee graduates to hive defender, that is when they have their first glance at the outside world. While they’re doing that — defending the hive — are they eager with anticipation of the time that they will become foragers? Caterpillars can be taught things that the butterfly remembers.
The pleasure of discovery is not only about wild forms; it is also true of people, all of whom are filled with remarkable stories. Not everyone shares their stories, and some people lie about their experiences. I find, however, that the vast majority of folks are willing to recount their experiences fairly truthfully.
If you watch and listen, there are many-splendored somethings to be gleaned from every story.