A return to bees

When Hubby and I are not traveling, we call Arizona home. It is delightfully warm and sunny during the winter months and the summer months give us more reasons to travel–to get away from the heat!

After this last trip to Palm Springs, we were welcomed home by a swarm of bees that was perched in a pepper tree in our backyard. For those of you not familiar with this part of the world, we have several varieties of bees that can take up residence, and one of those varieties is the infamous Africanized bee, also lovingly known as the “killer bee”.

Our bee visitors. (Photo by M Dryja.)

The Africanized bee is most known for being incredibly aggressive. Stories abound about people being killed by swarms that felt threatened. Whether the stories are all true or partially exaggerated is unknown. Still, I can’t think of anyone who would come home to a swarm of bees in their tree and not at least consider it a little dangerous.

Hubby and I discussed what we should do. Neither of us wanted to have them killed. It’s not in us to take action against nature unless it threatens us real, undeniable harm. I do not kill spiders in my house, for example. I have killed ants in my kitchen only because I know no other way to lure them permanently outside. Beyond that, I try to make my home inhospitable to creatures that might want to live inside. Outside, we have to figure out a way to live together.

Fortunately, Hubby found the answer to our questions when he did some research online to find a Pest Control Guy. He learned that swarms of bees in vegetation, such as trees, often are there to rest the queen and not to stay permanently. Swarms mean that they are looking for a new home, but treehouses are not usually what they consider suitable real estate. Also, we learned that they can be in the trees sometimes up to a week before leaving, depending on what their scouts find further out. And, when left alone, bee swarms are usually harmless. They’re too busy with the work at hand. Throwing rocks at them, poking them with sticks, and otherwise making their lives difficult are acts of aggression and, if bees attack a person for doing that, that’s not the bees’ fault. Pretending to be a cloud and floating up on a balloon in an attempt to steal honey is also not a good idea, for those out there named Winnie the Pooh.

Truth be told, I was scared of the swarm. I never went out, like my husband, to stare at it from underneath the tree. (He, by the way, decided to name them all “George”. If memory serves, he may wish to change that to “Georgette” since most worker bees are female.)

The closest I came to them was the back patio, which is across the pool from the pepper tree.┬áStill, I was equally fascinated. From my desk at home, I can see the pepper tree. I watched the bees and, although I could not make out the minute details of each bee, I could see the activity of their scouts who ventured from the group to look for resources or the next place to land. I watched the shimmer of their mass as they moved around and around to protect the queen at their center. I imagined what it must be like to be a bee in the midst of all those other bees, to not have my own space to stretch and rest, to have other little legs and wings crawling and fluttering over me, on me, and around me. ACK! Of course, I am not a bee and doubt very much that bees think like that. All I’ve got, though, are my own thoughts and those were mine.

The view of the pepper tree (and Hubby's silhouette) from my desk.

We returned on Sunday to The Georges in our tree. On Monday a windstorm blew through. The bees clung to the tree heroically. They were in a large clump, about the size of a basketball. One wind gust was particularly strong, however, and when I looked up from my writing, the large clump had broken apart into three smaller clumps! It was amazing how it ripped, as if the bees were all one piece of fabric and the wind had cut it in thirds! As the afternoon progressed and the wind did not die down, the bees pressed back together, but formed a longer, sturdier structure along the branch. The wind finally faded by Tuesday and, the next morning they were back in their oblong basketball shape.

The bees as they reformed on the branch from the windstorm. (Photo by M Dryja.)

The bees left us yesterday. Although I am glad the danger is no longer so present, I miss them in a way. They were really fun to watch. Our theory as to why they stayed as long as they did is that the stress of the windstorm on Monday wore everybody out. How honored I was to get to see them do their work together for a couple of days. I also sort of felt like I was in on a special secret as I watched them “packing their bags” yesterday. The outer bees were much busier than before, actively buzzing around, as if to tug the others away. One minute they were there, the next they were gone!

Farewell, dear bees, all named George! May you live long and prosper, do no one harm, nor be done harm to.