I don’t know what it is with us and animals – either we attract the ones with eccentric behaviour or a couple of months of close proximity to us and ‘normal’ animals start sliding a couple of standard deviations towards the weird end of the spectrum. This time it’s bees.
I blame the monks.
When we started looking into keeping bees we were told that the best bees for a newbie were the Buckfast bees – a strain of bees bred by the monks of Buckfast Abbey for their passivity and their cute, furry tonsures. After all, the last thing a new beekeeper wants is a hive full of aggressive, hairy bees that swarm and sting every time you open their hive. Especially people like me, brought up on cartoons where bees liked nothing better than to chase and sting humans until their quarry had to dive head first into a lake.
Not having a lake nearby, we decided to buy a hive full of these Buckfast bees and they’ve been great. A little bit of smoke and they let you open their hive. You can even stand and watch a few yards away from an open hive without a bee suit and not be bothered by them.
Using smoke to calm bees has always seemed strange to me. It’s supposed to make them think the tree their hive is inside is on fire. Their reaction to this news is to seek out honey and eat it to prepare themselves for an imminent house move and the possibility they might not have anything to eat for a few days. Me – if anyone lifted the roof off my house and filled the bedroom with smoke – I’d have a different reaction. ‘Calm and placid’ would not feature.
Last week, while visiting a bee forum, we noticed an article from someone whose hive had ‘adopted’ a bumblebee. There was even a picture of the bumblebee on one of the frames eating honey while surrounded by hundreds of bees paying it no attention. Other beekeepers said how unusual it was and that intruders – be they wasps, bumblebees or honey bees from another hive – were usually attacked, shredded and deposited outside the hive in pieces within seconds.
The next time we opened our hive we saw the wasp. Unchallenged, it was inside the hive, on a frame, eating honey while surrounded by thousands of uninterested bees. Crap. Wasps aren’t known for keeping secrets. If one wasp finds out where there’s free food…
The next day we watched the hive for five minutes and counted four wasps entering the hive unchallenged. Where were our workers? Where were the sentries? Pacifist bees every one of them. They weren’t even protesting. No peaceful line of pickets. No sit down strike. No ‘I say, I think you really should look for your own food, you know.’
They were too busy giving out alms. As I said, I blame the monks.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf.
Recently released from Book View Press: French Fried – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!