Saturday, October 31, 2015

Waiting For The Man: A Bee Update

What can *now* be found in the refrigerator: leafcutter cocoons!
Alternate post titles include "Blustery Halloween Day" and "Not About Paris, Again; What's Up With That?" It is, in fact, a blustery Halloween and I'm sort of spending it waiting for the refrigerator repair guy to come look at the refrigerator and determine what needs to be replaced so that it does not repeat its unpleasant trick of earlier this week, namely ceasing to refrigerate. After shifting the fortunately fairly meagre contents into coolers to keep the stuff from going bad and then proceeding with  the "unplug and open all the doors" defrost that was recommended, we took all the shelves and drawers out to wash them. A large part of me now believes that the spirit of Aurora tampered with the refrigerator just so we'd give it a proper cleaning; it's kind of creepy just how nasty some of those hidden parts of one's refrigerator can become. And not so hidden too. People! Look at the jars of weird old stuff that have been sitting on the refrigerator door since your last party!

But that sort of public service announcement isn't exactly a bee update. It being the last day of October, I was finally moved to bring in the leafcutter bee trays (which, yes, should have been shifted to a cool, dry garage a month ago) and see what they might contain. I've put it off, frankly, because I was pretty damned sure our leafcutter experiment had failed miserably. A good half of the cocoons never hatched and after the first rush of bees that were already awake when we opened the box, I'm not sure that I ever saw another leafcutter bee in the yard. I also had my doubts that any of the cocoons that had hatched contained females. So I figured we'd find nothing but a bit of mold in the trays and I don't need that sort of disappointment.
The modest harvest
 The secret of happiness, I discovered quite some time ago, has nothing to do with having plants in your house or a hobby, no matter what  some fluffy online articles might advise, but rather is having low expectations. Oh, that might be the outlook of certifiably depressed personality but I tell you, it works. Not expecting to find anything in the bee trays, I was utterly ecstatic to discover instead a few cocoons. Had I expected them to be full? Well, this post would be bitter, rather than pretty darned chirpy. And, you know, they're pretty miraculous little things, these tiny packets made of nibbled bits of leaf. Nature, when you stop to look, is really pretty amazing. Just take a moment to click on that first photo above and marvel not at how I still haven't gotten a macro lens so I still never have a decent photo of small things but rather at how intricately those tiny little bites of leaves are knit together, using tiny bee saliva.

Water your bee humidifier monthly
 But back to the scientific reportage. We carefully removed the cocoons from the tray (I used a bit of dried poppy stalk to--gently--pry them loose) and then we put them into the refrigerator in their little plastic humidifier to which I'd added a few spoons of water. It was a scene that I'm now realizing was reminiscent of the bit in It's A Wonderful Life where George puts Mama Dollar and Papa Dollar into the office tray and marches them off to the vault with the instructions to have a family "real quick." Of course the cocoons won't mate but I do hope their contents survive the next several months and that five or six healthy and ambitious leafcutters emerge next summer. The timing worries me since the paperwork says both that they'll need to hatch and start eating in six or seven months or they'll starve and that they should go out not later than the end of July which is more like nine months. I'm hoping for a warm May, is what I'm hoping for. I'm also not sure how to separate what must be two or three cocoons so I'm further hoping that since they're not separated in their natural setting, they'll be fine here. It's always possible that since so few cocoons were placed that I've got a bunch of males too but, well, my plan is to care for them as best I can and hope for the best.  (For some of us, apparently, the greatest of these is hope.)

 In other, only very tangentially related news, the pine siskins are back! The dark-eyed juncos still outnumber them in the backyard but it's nice to see the siskins. Below, however, is neither siskin nor junco and it's not even from the yard; no, it's a ruby-crowned kinglet we saw last weekend at Camp Long. We learned then that not only do kinglets sometimes sound a lot like a Bewick's wren, they also have a "song" that sounds like typing on an old manual typewriter which, on first hearing, might make you think that an Anna's hummingbird is in the area. The Anna's, though, is more squeaky bike chain, of course.


  1. Do you realize that people get *paid* to write idiotic articles like that?
    I'm with you on low expectations -- that's exactly how I manage to have a grand time whenever I go to see the Mariners at Safeco Field.

    Congratulations on your leafcutters. I wish them well!

  2. I've pretty much taken to assuming such articles are written by random sentence aggregators. I sleep better thinking that. And you clearly *do* understand about low expectations; a Mariners game is just the sort of event that is ideal for them.