Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The dying bumble bee

On a cold wet evening in July when the news bulletins were full of reports about the disastrous floods in the Midlands, I found a dying bumble bee on Troy Track. She was the epitomy of coldness and wetness and I picked her up on my finger tip and put her out of harm's way among the leaves of one of the hypericums.

By the morning she would be dead and the whole episode reminded so much of a wonderful passage in F. W. L. Sladen's 1912 book on the Humble-bee:

In the case of B. pratorum, and probably of other species whose colonies end their existence in the height of summer, the aged queen often spends the evening of her life very pleasantly with her little band of worn-out workers. They sit together on two or three cells on the top of the ruined edifice, and make no attempt to rear any more brood. The exhausting work of bearing done, the queen’s body shrinks to its original size, and she becomes quite active and youthful-looking again. This well-earned rest lasts for about a week, and death, when at last it comes, brings with it no discomfort. One night, a little cooler than usual, finding her food supply exhausted, the queen grows torpid, as she has done many a time in the early part of her career; but on this occasion, her life-work finished, there is no awakening.

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