Back in school we all learned about how plants are pollinated and how the bees became part of, well, “the birds and the bees.” So it was with some delight that I walked out my front door last night, heard some thrumming in the air, and turned to see his industrious bee tumbling and bumbling in the flowering bushes of our front beds. With his keister coated in pollen, he was a living testament to the wonders of botany.
There have been a lot of stories about bee shortages in the news lately. Who would have thought, when we were kids and suffered through our first painful bee sting and had our Moms pull the stinger out with a pair of tweezers, that we would worry that there aren’t enough bees in the world?
Ever since I read my first article about bee colony collapse disorder I’ve been paying more attention to the presence of our buzzing, striped, pollinating friends. Heck, they’ve even installed a beehive on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse. So when I saw this bee hive and accompanying sign at Frank Fetch Park in German Village, I paid attention — and approached carefully. No bees were visible, however.
Last Saturday, while I was weeding the flower beds, I heard that familiar buzzing sound. When I looked around, I saw a good-sized bee hovering nearby, doing its pollen-gathering thing, and I immediately felt that surge of adrenalin that I always feel when I see a bee. When the bee came lurching in my direction, heading toward a nearby flower, I skedaddled with thrashing, comical awkwardness.
When I was a kid, bees scared the crap out of me. I had heard about people being painfully stung by bees and how, for some people who are allergic, a bee sting can be a life-threatening event. I had read about how, for some bees, the act of stinging is their last desperate act of defiance, as they leave their barb and part of their bodies in their human victims. I didn’t want to find out whether I was deathly allergic to bee stings or have my arm turn into a bee graveyard. So, whenever I realized a bee was nearby, I got the heck out of there.
Then one day, before I was even aware that a bee was nearby, I got stung. I felt a sharp pinch, looked down and saw the bee, and thought: “That wasn’t so bad.” The anticipation had been far worse than the actual event. The old, ingrained bee-avoidance impulses remain, however, and they probably always will.
As we approach the end of summer and feel the first chills of approaching autumn, it’s crucial to hang on to the last few sultry moments of the fading season. So it was today, as we are enjoying a day of clear weather with the temperature in the 70s and brilliant sunshine.
It was a good day to go out and nose around the colorful garden beds ringing our brick patio. We planted marigolds there at the end of May, and they have thrived through the initial rainy days and more recently through many dry days, growing thick and bursting with color. The flowers almost look like beds of glowing coals, filled with bright golds, rich oranges, deep crimsons, and other dazzling shades of yellow and red.
I find the flowers irresistible on a warm sunny day, and I am not alone: bumblebees and butterflies, intoxicated by the heady scent of pollen, also were out in force, working hard and getting a snootful of the flowers. Bees in particular are fascinating to watch. The phrase “busy as a bee” is apt. They move single-mindedly from flower to flower, put a steady grip on the petals, and thrust their heads deep into the recesses of the flowers. They are wholly oblivious to nearby humans.
Butterflies, on the other hand, are like nervous suitors dressed in their Sunday finest. With colorful markings on their wings in full display, the butterflies flit from flower to flower, alighting for a few moments as if staying only for a brief dalliance. They quickly go about their business, but when the shadow of a human being crosses their path they immediately flutter away, dipping and swerving, to land again a few flowers away — and the whole act begins all over again.
If you sit outside on a warm spring or summer evening, you are apt to notice that there are fewer bees buzzing around your flowers. In Ohio, there has been a significant decline in the bee population. The phenomenon is not limited to Ohio, either. The BBC reports that bee populations have declined in the northern parts of the United States and Europe, including Great Britain.
Why is this happening? No one knows, for sure. The linked articles identify the potential causes as including parastic mites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even inbreeding. They even have a name for mass bee deaths — colony collapse disorder. (Or it may just be that the bees have migrated to Washington, D.C. to pester the President; a curious story reported that thousands of bees buzzed the White House today.)
As a kid, bees were part of the summertime adventure. It was not unusual to get stung once in a while, and you learned to keep an eye out for hovering bees and their telltale buzz. It won’t really be summer in Ohio without them.