Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bumble bee

Bombus, the scientific name for these gorgeous creatures, means (in Latin) "a hollow, deep sound, a booming, humming, buzzing." These things are loud. They hover around my upstairs windows like helicopters, looking, I believe, for likely nesting sites in the roof. According to Dr. Stephen Marshall, "Mated female bumble bees spend the winter in sheltered places, emerging in spring to start colonies in old mouse nests or similar cozy cavities. After cleaning up her new home and building an initial wax honey pot, a foundress female Bombus forages for nectar and pollen, ultimately filling the wax pot with honey and building up a supply of pollen on the surrounding floor. She then lays a batch of eggs on the pollen, covers them with a wax sheet and proceeds to incubate the eggs by lying over them and raising her body temperature well above the surrounding temperature." She continues to care for her larvae, feeding them "a mixture of pollen and honey until they have pupated within silken cocoons."

These pictures are all of two individual bees. I went out around 9:00 a.m., when the temperature was about 15C—this was warm for me, but apparently not for this bee, because although she didn't look ill or old, she wasn't flying anywhere. When she had to move from flower to flower, she crawled. The pictures of the second bee were taken in the afternoon, when it was considerably warmer. Bumble bees fear nothing, apparently. My lens was probably 2 cm away from them when I shot most of these pictures, and that didn't cramp their style at all. See--she was hungry, so she ate:

Here's her tongue: note the gaping jaws:

"Worker…bees have eyes that are divided up into two great ellipses on opposite sides of their head. Each compound eye is made up of about 6,900 individual units/facets packed tightly together as hexagons and known as ommatidia. Each ommatidium is able to capture light rays from a small angle of view."

But in addition to these huge compound eyes, they also have three simple eyes, called ocelli, which can't focus but give the bee information about light intensity. I didn't know this until today, but once you are aware these eyes exist, you can actually see them with your naked eye. Check it out:

After her meal, the bee takes a bath. Gracefully, she wipes off every part of herself. Antennae:

Even her tongue (I'm not joking, the tongue took the longest time of all):

What a wonderful life! I think I'd like being a bumble bee.

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