Monday, August 3, 2009

How do bees die?


This is a sad post, all about one bee. Today I had many commitments until the afternoon, and then it was cloudy and cool and a little windy, but I thought I would go out anyway with my camera and see what I could see.

I ended up getting a lot of pretty good pictures of an adorable little wasp that I will write about later, and then I found this bee. She was perched motionless on the back of a borage flower. Borage flowers face downward, and are popular with bees, who hang by their feet upside down while they drink the nectar. Borage has long and (to a bee, I would imagine) soft spikes all over the stems, and this bee was just resting on them with her legs dangling loosely down. At first I thought she might be dead, but she did move a little. It was about 17C, rather chilly for a bee, but there were lots of other bees of various species around, briskly harvesting, and when one of those would come near her, she would bat it away with a single leg. It was only when I uploaded these images to my computer that I realized she was missing the lower part of one antenna (click for a clearer view):

Who can tell what her story is? Perhaps she is old. Perhaps she has just been through a terrible experience. After a while she stirred herself and slowly cleaned herself all over--back, forelegs, back legs, tongue:

Then she was still again, all except for her feet, which shook and trembled as if she were freezing, which maybe she was.

I checked again a few hours later, and she was gone. I hope she got back to her hive okay, and that if bees give any kind of care to their dying she got that, and maybe even that she wasn't in as bad shape as seemed to me when I took these photographs. Sorry they aren't great--there wasn't a lot of light. The insect world, like the human world, has its silent tragedies.

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