Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Ingenuity of Carpenter Bees (excerpts from my Ulu Geroh Field Diary

Day 2

There were so many things that I wanted to talk to the people about and so many things I wanted to do, but it was hard in the early stages to insert myself into daily situations in such an intrusive manner and so there were some mornings - when families were going about their more intimate of household chores - that I would have literally nothing to do and would thus be relatively free to wander around and entertain my own curiosities. I sat that morning, in the common eating area underneath a beautiful trellis made of very large vines. The vines, which had leaves as big as my upturned palm (some even larger) also sported some very large purple flowers that would attract a large number of animal life. Sunbirds, butterflies and hummingbird moths could usually be found here but today it was the big,  fat carpenter bees. Now, if you've never seen a carpenter bee in your life and saw one buzzing about the flowers as it was doing today you might mistake it for a very large black beetle for that is what it most looks like. You may also notice a distinct buzzing sound like the engine of a very small motorcycle that is made by their wings when they fly. Indeed, this buzzing sound is so loud that carpenter bees are often heard before they are seen. This morning there were two of them flitting about the flowers, and they were doing it with such ferocity that it almost seemed as if they were engaged in a private little race with each other to see which bee could sip from, and pollinate, the most purple flowers on that vine before they ran out. For you see, the bees seemed to possess this remarkable ability - like a special kind of sixth sense - which prevented them from visiting the same flower twice!  A bee would buzz up to a flower, crawl clumsily into its open, upturned "mouth", do it's thing, and then fly noisily off to the next one. Should it happen to hover around the same flower cluster that it had visited before,  it would simply halt its flight, hover a little as if making sure, then move off to a new cluster. This was the same should another bee attempt to feed from an already fed upon flower. In effect, the bees were the epitome of efficiency! No bee visited the same flower twice and the other bees seemed to be able to know which flowers had already been visited as well. In this way the two bees were able to complete their rounds of the vine rather quickly and without any overlapping of flowers between the two of them. I could almost imagine them talking over the buzzing sounds they made a they left.

"Hah! I win today," a triumphant bee one might say.

"Oh we'll see about tomorrow. Just you wait!" says an indignant bee two. 

Xolocopa latipes (tropical carpenter bee) image source: wikimedia.commons

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