Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sister Bee

I had an amazing experience with a worker bee.

There were a few bees outside the hive, stiff and unmoving from the cold.  I'd just warmed up a batch, taking photos and video (which are included here but those are the only photos I took).

Then I went to Hive #2 where there were many bees standing in a frozen stupor on the cement bricks that support the platform.
I'd finished the work on the hives so I picked them up.  These encounters provide an interesting time for me to observe bees close up.  There were about ten of them, along with a drone.  I held them cupped in my palms.

One worker stood out in memory because I could see her problem.  I found her on the ground.  In fact, I'd nearly stepped on her.  She had a clump of pollen pattie stuck to her wing.  The weight would be a problem and it would prevent her wings from locking together properly so she could fly.  It would surely cause her death.

I cupped the bees in my hand, leaving a small portal open  between my thumbs.  Several were moving slightly when I picked them up.  They warmed up very quickly and popped out of the portal between my thumbs like bees leaving a hive, one after the other after the other.

The rest were colder and needed more time to warm up.  I could feel them crawling around in my cupped hands.

Each one flew off, the drone was first followed by the other workers.  The worker with the pattie on her wing flew too, or at least tried to.  But she couldn't fly and she ended up on the ground again.

I picked her up and took her to the truck.  I had a tiny metal tool I could use the scrape the wing.  Gently I rubbed the wing while she sat on my hand.  She let me lift her wings so I had better access, but no luck.  I could see the pattie was stuck underneath her secondary wing.  It was stuck to her like peanut butter.

I  put her in a queen cage and took her home.  She needed her wing cleaned off and I had an idea.

At home she was hungry.  I gave her honey and while she licked at it I used dampened Q-tips to lift and rub her wing.  She sat on my hand and I knew she might sting me, but I decided to chance it.

I was astounded when she actually lifted and separated her wings.  She held them up so that I could swab at them over and over.  I'm sure she knew I was trying to clean her, like a sister bee.  I dribbled water on her and then used the Q-tip to rub.  Then I used it dry her off.  She never tried to run away and didn't show any sign of aggression.

The dampened Q-tips worked.  Her wing was clean.  I realized I'd better act fast because she could fly.  And she did.  The cats heard the loud buzzing and they tried to race ahead of me to catch her.

She landed on the window and I lowered my honey covered finger.  She latched on, no problem, her long tongue coming out.

I took her outside and stood in a sunny spot in the back yard.  She ate honey for a bit and then she walked across my palm and lifted up in flight.

She circled me about five times, making orientation loops and then she was gone--headed in an eastern direction--for home.

The bee yard is about 4 km from my home so she I knew she'd make it.

I don't think I'll ever stop loving learning from the bees.  I wonder what they'll teach me next?


Michelle said...

This blog post is really lovely! I enjoyed reading how you took care of the bees, cleaning ones wings to help her fly again. Very sweet! All beekeepers should be this way.

I'm not quite brave enough yet to hold a bee in my bare hand but my kids will often feed them honey when they get caught over night on our window screen. Once they eat the honey they are able to fly home.

Beekeeper Barbara said...

Michelle, you're so right... a little honey snack and they've got the energey to fly. They're not too much different than us.