won’t you bee mine?


Reading the classic Bees tonight to little w. I really had to stifle my, “Oh, come on!  You have to be kidding me!” reaction.  Not having taken a biology class in a reeeeeeeally long time, I could not believe what I was reading about the poor worker bee and her plight in life.  Here’s an excerpt of Judith Jango-Cohen’s tasty prose for you:

For the next three weeks the worker will perform different jobs inside the nest.  After cleaning for a few days, she will become a nurse bee.  Glands in her head will begin to produce liquids called bee milk.  She will feed this protein-packed food to the growing larvae for their first three days.  Then she will give them bee bread, a mixture of pollen and honey. When wax glands in her abdomen develop she will become a builder bee, making honeycomb.  She will also fan the stored nectar to make honey.  Toward the end of the three weeks she will take her turn as a guard bee.

The last three weeks of her life, the worker will take  on the exhausting job of a field bee.  Each day she will fly for  miles collecting pollen and nectar.  Carrying her weight’s worth of food, she will return to the nest.  Sometimes she will dance to let other field bees know where to go to find the food.

Jeez, I can’t decide what is the worst part of this story.  Depressingly, she begins her tale cleaning up the nest which we all know has to be one seriously sticky place.  I can’t imagine that those bees don’t drip all over the place.  And what’s her reward?  The task of nursing which among humans can be a lovely bonding experience but cannot possibly hold that same cachet in the insect world.   And the most disturbing part of being a nurse bee? The bit about the gland in her head producing “bee milk.”  First of all, is “‘bee milk” the best term that the scientific brain could come up with?  And then does it seriously have to come out of the bee’s head like some draining abscess?

The other part of the saga of the bee’s life that makes me just shake my head is when the poor thing becomes a field bee, an exhausting “reward” at the end of her life.  Not only does she have to fly around all day collecting a backbreaking supply of pollen and nectar but then she’s expected to put on a show and dance for all of the other bees when she gets back home?  I’m tired just thinking about it, and all I’ve done today is laze around in an air conditioned home making skyscrapers out of lego.

And now for your edutainment, a depiction of this poor bee’s last dance:


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