Wednesday, March 22, 2023

to bee -- or not to bee

Those of us who live in la casa sin nombre are constantly on the alert for stinging creatures. Especially, when my brother is in residence.

He does not have a bug phobia. He is essentially fearless. Our vigilance is medically-based. He is highly allergic to almost anything that stings. Deadly allergic.

Christy, my sister-in-law, and I keep a close watch on the upper terrace. Wasps seem to find the area as amenable as retired condo-buyers from Moosejaw find the beaches of Puerto Vallarta. I knock down at least two nests each week in the breeding season.

I try to catch them in the foundation stage before the wasps spend the effort to lay their eggs. I am not anti-wasp. I just do not like them congregating where they can turn a pleasant dinner of carnitas into an emergency dash to the hospital. 

That is why Christy sent me into DEFCON 1 at breakfast about four weeks ago. She looked up from the breakfast counter and saw a large black spot on one of the eaves of the pavilions on the second-floor terrace.

"How could the wasps have built a nest that big in the last hour?"

She had a good question. One that I shared.

I grabbed my de-nester stick (what the less-creative might call a long-handled squeegee) and set off to do battle before the nest got to a critical point. But it was not a wasp nest. It had nothing to do with wasps.

It was a group of honey bees.

At first, I took it for a swarm. I know the behavior because of past experience.

A queen has left a hive and has taken an entourage of workers with her. Fattened up on honey, they will alight here and there surrounding her en masse until they find a new home. Under most circumstances, they move on in a day or two.

Apparently, this lot have not read the "How to Make Swarms and Influence Your Neighbors" manual. They have now been hanging out on the same eave for almost a month. Always in the same place.

During the day, they form what is best referred to as an apian icicle. At night, they flatten out into a disc -- one bee deep. Bees come and go from the formation. But the formation, in its various forms. stays in the same place.

No new bees seem to join the first lot. And no construction is taking place. At first, I thought they might try to create a honeycomb to at least produce honey for themselves. But it is just the bees and their proverbial knees.

In one of those strange coincidences, the obituary in last week's The Economist was about Justin Schmdt, a scientist who devoted his entire career to studying the sting of insects and developing a four-point index of those stings. His title of "King of Stings" was well-deserved. (A fact I had forgotten is that only female insects sting. Make of that what you will.)

Even though he was fascinated with the different level of pain associated with stings, he discovered that there was not a direct correlation between the pain of the sting and the toxicity of the associated venom. The honey bee, for example, has one of the mildest stings, but is highly-toxic. And it is toxicity that matters most to the stingee.

I have not molested my bee colony. My brother has returned to Oregon, so the medical justification for removing it has ebbed. I am more fascinated by its behavior.

They are honey bees. I will do what I can to protect them. Unfortunately, I have heard the whirring of the vector control sprayer near the house the last two nights. So far, it has not passed by. Balancing out the danger of the ever-increasing population of the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti, I would still opt for protecting this small hive of honey bees searching for sanctuary.

We will see which force ends up winning.

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