It has been said that honey bees came from the tears of Ra, the Egyptian sun god.
I can see them plummeting to earth, discovering their amber wings and then gently flying the remaining distance. They probably did a little synchronized dancing on the way down.
Touched by the divine they remain forever blessed. In turn they create their own dripping miracle: honey.
It all sounds so golden age. But now that the heat of August has driven me inside, the natural world has become more a place of imagination than one I actually spend much time wandering through. A story about bees falling sweetly to earth seems about as reasonable as anything I might encounter out there.
Honey bees have a long history of mystical, religious and spiritual significance.
Like the Egyptians, the ancient Hebrew speakers also connected honey bees with divinity. Their word for bee connects to “davar” meaning a word, thing, or object and “dabar” meaning speak. Perhaps honey bees are one of JHVH’s living poems.
I know that when I discovered the bee colony living in our backyard it really did feel like a momentous event — like we had received a precious gift from the universe. After reading and hearing many stories about other people’s accounts of bee visitations I had to notice that that feeling of awe seems to be a common response.
Since their arrival, the whole world has become slightly more personal. Every honey bee I see is one of ‘our’ bees; they will never again be anonymous insects.
Squirrel Box Update
Here’s the history. Some time in late June a swarm found our empty squirrel box. They liked what they saw and decided to move in.
I was so worried that we might be unworthy of the gift or that something bad might happen to the bees that I put up a poll asking for your opinions last month. (Thanks for sharing them, btw.) I thought it was interesting that your collective answers mirrored my ambivalence about what I ought to do.
My main concern then was that the squirrel box might be inadequate since it is so much smaller than commercial bee hive boxes. Since then I’ve learned more about …
Bees and Squirrel Boxes
Thomas D. Seeley, a genuine scientist, also wondered: how much space do feral honey bees need? To answer the question, he went around bothering and killing a lot of feral colonies back in the 1970s. (Since he seems to love bees so much I can only guess that he did his work before non-destructive means were invented.) He found wild colonies occupied areas that were much smaller than the hives provided by beekeepers.
“The average nest cavity was only about 20 centimetres (8 inches) in diameter and 150 centimetres (60 inches) tall; hence it had a volume of only about 45 liters (41 quarts) … Some of the colonies even occupied tree cavities with only 20 to 30 liters of nesting space, though none was found in a space smaller than 12 liters.” Honeybee Democracy, 2010
The volume of our backyard squirrel box is 29 L — meaning the situation is not nearly as bad as I imagined.
The main problem with squirrel boxes as bee nests is the front opening. It is far too large and leaves the bees vulnerable to predation. Tina, from My Gardener Says, suggested covering the opening while they slept. I am not afraid of the bees at all. I’ve had enough life experience (including a motorcycle road trip where a bee and I happily shared a helmet for many highway miles) to know that they are supremely gentle beings. I’d go up there and cover the entrance in a flash but the box has over time become quite inaccessible. I’ve thought about rigging some kind of safety harness together to climb the tree … but … you know …
While I dither, the bees have been busy. So far they have covered about 1/5 of the opening with what looks like beeswax. At first I thought it might be propolis but I have discarded that idea. The colour is wrong. And propolis wouldn’t be as stable as wax; it begins to get sticky at 20 °C (68 °F). Even our overnight lows exceed that temperature.
Lesson learned. I’ll just file the experience under the category: Wild Animals Really Do Know What They Are Doing.
(Yes. I should help them out by covering that space. And as they say here in Austin: “I’m fixing to do just that.”)
Thanks to Rambling Woods for hosting Nature’s Notes each Tuesday AND Tina from My Gardener Says who hosts Wildlife Wednesday each month. This week I thought I’d be lazy and just link the same post to both. =)