Friday, 17 January 2020
The Three Bees: When Mother Leaves Home
When Mother Leaves Home
It was hot and stuffy and Burly was squashing Curly uncomfortably into the side of the frame. Soft spring light washed gently over Curly’s enormous eyes and Twirly was twitching slowly coming out of sleep. He was anxious that Curly would be cross at the fidgety disturbance and at the squashing, but Curly’s mind was elsewhere. He shoved as best he could at his brother and Burly snored softly, slightly shifting his large body to get away from the fidgeting and the pushing.
Curly wasn’t particularly cross, but as the growing sunlight washed warmth and morning throughout the hive he had a curious sense of something changing. The girls were everywhere awake and all their senses were probing the air, trying to understand what it was that was different today. It was more than the sense of spring and the rising warmth, it was more than the newly ambered light rising up through the grid that formed the base of the hive. On this very particular morning there was none of the early morning muttering about inadequately sealed gaps, none of the urgent movement towards the sharded light piercing through unsealed spaces. No brow-furrowed bee engineers were assessing how much propolis would be needed to seal the breaches, or where the bees should source it, who should do the work nor even how long it would take. Instead there was just this curious electric energy and a charged, murmuring anxiety spreading from frame to frame throughout the hive.
Listening absent mindedly to Burly’s snoring rhythm, Curly pondered awhile. The honey stores were proceeding nicely he had observed. Curly had learned from his many sisters that their primary function, and the function that killed them in the end, was foraging to bring back the raw materials for the colony’s survival. They had clearly been busy and the colony was thriving, crowded even. He had noted yesterday that Mother had been extremely lively with her egg laying and that her fastidious retinue were especially busy keeping her fed and watered. They had been cleaning her more urgently as she moved from cell to cell, each time leaving behind a tiny egg that would soon grow into a grub and eventually into a new bee. She had even laid eggs in several overly large cells, cells which Curly thought were mistakes made by younger bees not used to drawing out comb for honey stores and raising brood.
Curly had also noticed that her retinue seemed bigger yesterday. Shoving Burly awake and telling Twirly to keep close because something was up, Curly headed off to where he had last seen the colony’s Queen. “What’s happening” piped Twirly, his eyes gleaming and his wonky frame moving awkwardly to keep up with his brother. He looked over his shoulder to check that Burly was coming too, as yawning and trying his best to get his antennae up and alert Burly mumbled something about breakfast. There would be no breakfast yet. The whole hive was in a buzzing uproar, bees moving fast and apparently at random across the frames and with no clear goal. To Burly it looked like chaos and he wondered fleetingly if the hornets were back. But this wasn’t like the hornet attack. There was no organisation, no sense that anyone had any idea where they were going or why, just high energy agitation. He pushed a leg around his little brother, shielding him from the seething crowd, helping him along as Curly shoved his way through.
Curly was taken aback to see Mother moving with considerable purpose towards the hive’s entrance. She never moved that fast and her wings were twitching. All around and behind her a turmoil of bees was clearly gathering itself into a tangled group, anxious to keep as close to the Queen as possible. And all the time the noise, the rising drone of thousands and thousands of wings limbering up for sudden action. As one, Curly watched them surge towards the exit, a turbulent mass of black and yellow, wings glittering, eyes gleaming, antennae outstretched. Like lava they passed out of the hive flying fast, straight and bouncing high into the bright morning light. The day was fully broken, leaving amber streaked mists hovering in the air. It embraced the rising cloud of bees, darting randomly back and forth rising higher and higher into the light. All tried to keep within range of their Queen as she spanned the golden air across random directions. They knew they had to protect and follow her but had no idea where it was she was going, only that they must come too.
Scout bees were dispatched and Curly heard that one scout had said something about a tree hollow some distance to the south. Another worker bee returning from an early morning excursion said they needed to get those new queens going. One of the younger nursery bees was crying because she couldn’t remember the precise combination of honey and royal jelly she should be giving the grubs in the giant cells. It was all a muddle and as half the hive hovered high in the shimmering light, Curly wondered what would become of them all without their Mother. Burly didn’t much care because he was hungry, but once Curly explained that without Mother there could be no more egg laying and no more new bees to feed them and tell them stories, Burly’s antennae drooped. He put a forlorn arm around Twirly who was had started snivelling, whimpering, sad and forlorn. As Burly hugged him closer Twirly pondered once again their imminent death.
A short while later a forager returned with the news that the queen and her now quite enormous entourage had settled high amongstthe cooling air of a nearby oaktree and that one of her scouts had found a new home. “But why did she leave?” Curly asked. “Why did they desert us?” The worker bee did not know, but she had heard stories. “What stories?” Burly wanted to know. “I’m not sure, just stories, stories about how Mothers always want to leave home eventually”, the forager returned. “Maybe she just wanted more space. Maybe she’d had enough of all the egg-laying and being fed, all the grooming and fuss.”
Burly was tucking into breakfast but managed to remind Curly that “we don’t need to worry … the girls will have it under control, you know that, you know they always do, whatever it is. It’ll be fine.” And Curly, sighing, had to agree. After all there was plenty of food and far fewer bees to eat it now. The hive wasn’t so stuffy and hot an they didn’t need to push through the crowds to get around. The sun was shining and winter was a part of some remote story he had heard once when passing the Queen as she told her latest retinue a bedtime story. Whatever winter was, Curly decided they didn’t need to worry. Far better to enjoy a late breakfast and then a peaceful midmorning nap with his brothers, somewhere out of the way and quiet.zzzzzzzzzzzzzz