Even a baby bee can make the world a better place

As a reminder that winter won’t last forever, even though it seems like it will sometimes, here is a story written last spring.

I watched my little bee break out of her cocoon today. I was surprised at how proud I felt over her success. The male hatched while I wasn’t looking, but I did see him for a few minutes. Man, are they fast! When he left, I could hardly tell which direction he went.

You probably didn’t know that bees have cocoons. Most folks think all bees are honey bees, the kind that live in hives and make honey. (Do honey bees “make” honey, or do they “gather” it? Technically, honey is nectar from plants, so bees simply gather it. Of course, it is changed while in the bee’s stomach and then stored in the hive, so I guess they make it also.)

But my little pet bee that hatched today is what is sometimes called a solitary bee because each female bee builds a single nest, deposits her offspring with provisions and then dies. She works alone.

I like to call them native bees because they were the only bees on the American continent until the early pilgrims brought the honey bee with them. Specifically, this little bee that hatched out of its cocoon today in mid-March is named Osmia lignaria by the scientific community. Others call it the Blue Orchard Bee, or the Mason Bee.

She’s a cute little bee that doesn’t look much like a honey bee. To begin with she is black, or a very dark blue if the light is just right. She is also smaller than a honey bee, probably about a quarter of an inch or a little more in length. Somehow, she is endearing in a way I didn’t expect. I can’t quite explain it, but she was just cute in a way that I had never thought about a honey bee. She sat for a few minutes, groomed some stray hairs, walked a few paces, defecated after her long winter in the cocoon, sat in the sun for a few minutes and then, in a flash, was gone also.

We had lived together all winter now. I got my bees last fall and have been carefully storing them, first outside, then in a refrigerator all winter. I hope to release them this spring, let them pollinate some orchards and then collect their babies for release the next year. I guess it is sort of free-range bee ranching, but without the branding and roundup necessary in running a real ranch.

I have been fascinated by things “living together” since my senior year in college when I took a course in parasitology, the study of parasites. I know that sounds gross, but I found the concept of things adapting to live together especially fascinating.

In fact, every animal ever examined has at least one specific animal that lives exclusively in, or on, the host.

In addition, every animal examined shares some collection of animals that live in it, or on it, with some other species.

Inescapably then, there are more “parasites” than free-living animals in the world. The term for these co- dependent creatures is “symbionts,” and most symbionts do not cause disease or in any way harm their hosts. Many benefit their hosts and are in turn benefitted.

Bees aren’t parasites. But they are symbionts. Their entire lives are intertwined with the flowering plants that provide them both pollen and nectar. But, in turn, the flowering plants are entirely dependent on the bees to provide the very intimate service of reproduction. Or maybe flowers are the symbionts of the bees? Sometimes it is hard to tell.

This mutual intimate relationship between insects and flowers benefits humans with the very world in which we live.

About 80 or 90 percent of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. There are about 200,000 animal pollinators in the world, and the great majority are insects.

And the most successful insect pollinators are bees. The world as we know it simply ceases to exist without pollinators.

So in yet another sense I have been living with my little Blue Orchard Bee much longer than just the past winter. I have been living with bees all my life. In fact, I owe my very existence, at least as it now exists, to the birds and the bees.

And that’s why I have my little bees. If I can create a home for these little creatures, I create a better Earth for me. When I tend the bees, they attend to my needs by providing sweet fruit, healthy vegetables, new seeds and beautiful flowers.

And maybe by building a better world for myself, I also create a better garden for my neighbors, more flowers for my community and just a better world. Not a bad deal.

And I got to watch my little bee hatch this morning, on top of it all.


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