Bye Bye Bea


I haven't said much lately about little Beatrice, our tiny tiny bee being cared for indoors. We discovered her 17 days ago when she left the nest but was unable to fly.

We brought her indoors to keep warm and feed and for many days on end took her outside to encourage her to fly , but she was having none of it!

Her wings were a little bit bent: not fully developed; and consequently she just couldn't achieve lift off even though she could flap them perfectly well.

She was doing really well indoors and going through several noticeable stages if behaviour regarding her environment and security.

A full write up on this behaviour is probably due at the end of the project, suffice to say that we were encouraging her to feed naturally from lavender (which she did without any trouble) and gradually teach her that she was not in danger from our intrusions into her nest.

Tiny little Beatrice next to the lavender and a small nutshell containing honey water

Initially she would 'fizz' and throw herself on her back, sting pointing threateningly at us as she did so, whenever we removed her tub lid and changed her food.

Last week that behaviour subsided and a casual warning leg became more routine. By yesterday even this behaviour was waning and she was starting to ignore our intrusions, realising that lid off and syringe looming means tasty new honey water.

Holly got to this point, and indeed beyond. She would come to the syringe and drink as we refilled her food; a process which took about 3 weeks to develop.

Many experiments have shown that bees can be trained in this pavlovian way: but we have shown they can be trained to lower their guard.

I was looking forward with great anticipation to the ongoing development of Bea and her potential to substantially outlive the colony she emerged from (Holly lived to about 70 days old - very old).

But sadly we found Bea dead today on her back. We have no explanation yet what might have caused such a sudden deterioration. In all other cases we have observed at least 24 hours of lingering debilitation and struggle. Bea was at her brightest yesterday and yet today she was gone.

Of course, we'll observe our usual 'quarantine' rules and not act on anything until 24 to 48 hours have passed, as we've had near-miracle recoveries in the past. We're not hopeful though.

We can't be sure whether the honey water we supplied her could be at fault but our observations suggest his hasn't affected the bees in the nest that drank it. The bottom line is, we have no alternative but to use it for indoor bees that can't fly and forage for themselves.

We should also remember that Bea is practically of microscopic size - she is most certainly under-developed to a significant degree. Whilst this is clearly visible externally in terms of her size and wing trouble, who knows how well her internal organs had developed. She seemed spritely enough, but this cannot tell the whole story.

So it's with greatest sadness we say farewell to Bea. We had a soft spot for Holly, but Bea was especially adorable and feisty. She lost two almost-identically diminutive sisters on their first exploration from the nest and it's such a shame we were unable to help them and have a small colony indoors - bumbles are, after all, social creatures.

Either way, we have to take comfort in the knowledge that we gave her a decent and safe quality of life for her final days.