Dead Bees Buzzing
When encountering a swarm of bees, tough choices must be made.
IF you’re searching for a nearly perfect insect on planet earth, look no further than the bee. There are approximately 25,000 species of bees spanning the globe, from the African continent to the Americas and nearly every other land mass between. They are superior pollinators — collecting pollen and nectar for food and subsequently cross-pollinating one plant to the other — on and on — contributing to the fertilization process, when fruits and seeds are formed and matured. According to estimates, bees are responsible for nearly 35 percent of the food we eat.
In Florida alone, there are 300 native species of bees, including species of honeybees, a very busy and furry little insect that visits 50 to 100 flowers on any given garden trip under the sun. Often you’ll find one buried in a bud or a few others buzzing nearby. Honeybees usually go about their important business, docile and unassuming, but sometimes the bees will sting a passerby, puncturing through the skin of a human, and losing their stinger in the process. It’s actually quite a tragic and gruesome death for the bee, a self-mutilation, if you can imagine, as the abdomen is ruptured, leaving a gaping hole, and half of the bee is gone with the stinger.
Bee stings, more than anything, are a mere annoyance to most humans. But there are times when a single sting, including one from an Africanized Honeybee, can send a person into anaphylactic shock and cause death. And, there are times when bees swarm. Though swarms seldom harm humans, serious injury or even deaths can and do occur if unlucky persons were to cross their path. It’s rare. But it does happen.
On one particular Florida afternoon, in the middle of the week, November 19, 2019, the bees arrived. It was trash day and oversized garbage bins and recyclables blocked parts of the street, proof that garbagemen had been there — were still there — grappling with, and emptying the bins, then tossing them anywhere other than their original spot.
One trash can a bit further down hadn’t budged, still filled to the brim with plastics, papers, rotten food, and old mail. Directly below it, two recycle bins, one yellow and one blue, overturned along with a syrup bottle, an empty tub of protein powder, a can of tuna, and a few cans of cat food. The bees were there; flying and bouncing from one carton to the next. Some flew higher in the air, then buzzed back down to the bins where more bees occupied the space, claiming new and savory territory, lumped together in a feeding-frenzy swarm.
It is said that bees swarm as a form of survival. When a colony becomes overcrowded, it will subdivide, splitting in two, and some bees will leave, looking for more resources and another place to live. In the late summer and fall months, for instance, when rainfall begins to subside and flowers wither in the heat, a trash can or recycle bin can make an appetizing alternative, a goldmine of leftover treats, sweeter than nectar, and free for the taking, but certainly, not without risk.
But for these particular Florida bees, the risk was worth the sweet stuff; the sweet, drippy, honey-like syrup oozing from a tipped over jug. It had drizzled in the recycling bins, on top the tuna and cat food cans and somehow smeared on an empty gallon of milk. It was everywhere. And so were the bees. A few hundred or so.
As it turns out, garbage men have the fifth most dangerous job in America. The work isn’t easy and injuries, even fatalities, occur for all sorts of reasons. Broken glass, a passing car, hazardous waste, flying squirrels, and raccoons — sometimes bad things happen to good garbagemen. Bad things that can and should be prevented with a few simple protocols like securing items in heavy trash bags or washing out food containers and keeping cartons or bottles covered. It’ll keep out the critters. And the bees — which garbagemen avoided that November afternoon.
And it also turns out that bee removal experts are in high demand. So much so that services requested and services rendered can have a lag time of up to 24 hours, or more, and calls made by those encountering a bee swarm may often go unanswered. And then there’s the bill, $500 or so, if an expert can get there in time, of course, which they couldn’t.
And time was a factor on this particular Florida afternoon. School would be out soon; children would walk home and pass through the street, near the untouched trash can, overturned recycle bins, the syrup bottle, and bees. Hundreds of bees.
Dish soap. Large, black plastic bags. A water hose. Goggles. Gloves. White rain coat with a white hood. Blue bandana. I already had a pair of jeans on and boots that covered my ankles. Except for the bridge of my nose, not one square inch of skin was exposed, not one single stinger would puncture my flesh. And not one passerby would recognize me, to be sure, since I looked a bit like a bee keeper — a champion and protector of bees. The irony was striking.
Down the drive, a few yards from my front door, the bees were still buzzing, like a mad mob — a hive mind — a collective consciousness, operating as a unifying force, hovering over the cartons, remnants of food and syrup. Delicious, delectable syrup.
When making the choice to conquer a bee swarm, one must have the upper hand — to be in position of advantage, power and control. All of these elements, along with an element of surprise, are needed to achieve the desired outcome. The bees would be unlikely to stay, especially when the rush of water floods in, if the syrupy source is wiped clean and if they believe the food is gone. All things considered, however, the swarm may be reluctant to leave. But the bees had to go, one way or another.
I would like to tell you that the bees flew away — tired of the soapy water — to find a new source of food and plenty of flowers and nectar to feed a colony. I would like to tell you that most of the bees lived. But as the water continued to rush inside the bins, frothy and bubbling over, the bees and their stingers began to drown.
Later, after containers were shoved into large black plastic bags, the yellow bus pulled through, and children walked their normal routes, stepping over cracks in the sidewalk, hurrying home after a long day at school. Soapy water still flowed in the gutters nearby. But they never saw the bees. They never saw the swarm.
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