Sunday, September 27

The Case Of The Dying Bee

I watched a bumble bee die today. Slowly. It must have taken three or four hours.

Gaige got his first bee sting whilst playing in the dirt in the back yard. He was playing well by himself while Dani and I were doing yardwork preparing for someone's fifth birthday party next weekend. All of a sudden I hear him SCREAMING at the top of his lungs " I'VE BEEN STUNG, I'VE BEEN STUNG". He comes running to me holding his hand yelling with tears beginning to roll down his cheeks.

So we take him to the bathroom, soak his hand in cold water, and give him some Tylenol. This helps and after about ten minutes the poor lad finally settles down, and begins telling us a story about how he got stung two times before, at his old house. Everything has a story with Gaige, and almost invariably involves some anecdotal reference to 'his old house'.

I tried to tweezer the stinger out of his swelling hand, clearly visible as a small black hair protruding from the wound, but was unsuccessful. So we put some ice on it and sat him in front of the TV. It wasn't long before he was back outside with us, helping and playing in the dirt again.

It was strange, that it even happened at all. There are no flowers in our back yard, any that once were there have either died in the summer heat, or been pulled out for re-landscaping. Also, he was playing in a dirt patch, not a typical place for a bee to be hanging out. At first when I heard and saw him screaming I thought it may have been a spider that bit him. I was worried as we have a lot of Black Widows in our foliage, I myself was bitten by one several years ago. My guess though is that the bee was old and on its last legs anyway and was on the ground, unable to fly. Out of poor luck and coincidence Gaige managed to come into contact with the furry insect and suffer the resulting assault.

I'd always known bees die after they sting, we all learn this quite young. I wonder why nature decided this (out of natural selection, not intelligent design). Maybe the wasps and bees drew straws eons ago in the carbon ether before the earth existed, and it was settled that wasps would get the 'sting at will' with zero consequences package, whilst bees will have to make do with the 'one shot'.

What I didn't realise was just how long a bee will writhe and wriggle and spasm after its sting has been spent. It lay there on its back legs pumping, it's whole body vibrating. I wondered what kind of chemical changes were taking place inside it's exoskeleton. It tried to stand a couple of times, I thought for a moment it was faking me out and about to fly off, but the thing fell back down and spasmed some more. I debated wether I should put it out of its misery, but evolution has clearly designed this process for a reason, so I let it go on for a while. Also, I was curious how long it would go on for. So I let it go on for a while, checking back occasionally to see if it had finally exhausted its lifecycle. Eventually it got swept up with the leaves and twigs and dust. And that was it for that particular bee.

And at dinner, Gaige informs us "You know, I'm just a little bit allergic to bees, but not wasps".

Yep, everything has a story.

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