Curious what the inside of the hive looks like from a bee’s POV, I put my iPhone at the entrance with the lens facing inward, and pressed video slomo.
What I captured was pure comedy, and another life lesson: When you lose your footing and fall down, inspecially in front of a crowd, there’s nothing you can do but dust yourself off and take another step forward. Like it never even happened.
Everyone has heard that bees dance to communicate the sources of flowers and of new homes; but in reality it’s more like a TV dance competition, So You Think You Can Dance, with judges and audience votes.
Groups of bees dance at once, all advocating different locations – and the scout bees take those coordinates and go investigate. Scouts return to the colony and begin dancing with the bee whose proposed location they like the best. Eventually one dancer gathers the most supporters – the largest dance crew – and thus a majority decision is reached about where to forage, and/or where the swarm will relocate.
Bee researchers, led by Cornell University’s Thomas Seeley, have tested the strength of honeybee democracy by offering the colony an array of artificial nesting sites. They tracked the bees and found that the colony always chose the best available home — the one that was the roomiest, driest, and with the most protective entrance high off the ground.
Another bit of bee magic wrapped in a good lesson: Democracy Works.
The lovely doyenne of San Francisco radio, Janet Gallin, host of the Love Letters Live radio show, opened up her airwaves recently to chat with me about life lessons from the hive. Thanks my friend, as always, it was a blast.
Meredith May, journalist, teacher, SF beekeeper and granddaughter of E. Franklin Peace the beekeeper of Big Sur, is back to talk some more about bees and just in time, too, since there is good news about the much discussed, troublesome and mysterious hive abandonment, more currently known as colony collapse disorder. Meredith is one of those people who can talk about the same subject time and again and always bring something new to the table. The hive, it turns out, is very much like some combination manufacturing factory and royal palace with guards, specific jobs, loyalty to hive, scent of the hive set by the queen and a willingness to sacrifice life for the good of the colony.
Every hive has a distinct flight plan – a certain place on on the landing board where the bees prefer to land and takeoff. One of my hives prefers the right corner. The other hive is less specific, with the bees landing and taking off anywhere near the entrance.
Today I took a seat on an old tire facing the right-dominant hive, and watched the bees to see if I could get a sense of which way they were going for nectar. They flew out, straight toward me, then rose up and over a fence several feet behind the hive, toward a basketball backboard. Then they banked left and flew toward a tree with white flowers and red berries. Returning, they made the same Blue Angels sudden turn, but in reverse. Show-offs.
I know this sounds strange, but the most soothing place for me is sitting in a cloud of bees. Their hum is like an “ohm,” and when I am alone with them, time slows down and I finally notice the pulsing microcosmos all around me. Today I saw that many of my foraging bees wipe their antennae clean just before they takeoff. Always important to look presentable before you leave the house, right?