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Dog bitten by bee during honey harvest, now in need of a hand to help her.
Caleb and I are spending a week volunteering with the Beartooth Wilderness Association in western Montana. We're helping to collect honey from wildflowers in the area (the honey from bumblebees in the genus Bombus is the best honey), and today we're in Great Falls, Montana. The bees we're looking at today are Bombus affinis, also known as the Western Honey Bee, and they're the ones that make the honey we eat. When we're out gathering honey and the hives have a high-protein diet, they get fat, and they're not so keen on coming into our houses.
In the wild, it's pretty unusual to get stung by a honeybee. The bees we see are mostly stingless, mostly because they're raised in captivity, fed antibiotics, and kept in tight hives. I've been stung as a kid, I've had to get a shot, and I've been stung as an adult and had to get a shot, but I've never had it feel like I was at risk of losing my life. I've always thought that, just like with beekeeping, if you're in a pinch and you get stung, you just work around it. It's not like you'd rather be the person that dies from stung rather than the person who comes home to a colony of stinging bees. We've just not seen the need to make it any harder.
That was my initial reaction as I was stung by a honeybee the other day. So I tried to just work around it and not really notice. Instead of making myself feel bad, I just noticed that a bee had stung me. And that's what I thought we should do with all these stings that we're getting. I had to stop myself from thinking about the bee, the pain, and my options.
The honeybee has been around for maybe 20 million years. Humans have been using honeybees for their products and for their services for about 30 thousand years. To think that our species has survived this long just by knowing how to work around a sting, that seems like an amazing survival strategy. But if we didn't get stung, we wouldn't have the ability to work around it.
You see, when we were growing up and doing things like playing soccer or riding our bikes, there was nothing you could do about bee stings. I've been watching these honeybees, I think about bees a lot, and I notice them stinging me. And you know what? They didn't kill me. If we'd been around 30 thousand years ago and bee stings were life threatening, maybe then we wouldn't have survived this long. I guess when they went to sting me, I think, they didn't know that I didn't know what they were doing or what they were trying to do.
So, if we've survived this long just by learning how to use the things that we have to use, our bees have, I think we have a lot of work to do. That's where my work starts. I don't think that we need to worry about what our next life will be, we just need to work on learning how to use our present life. You need to learn to be more sensitive to the things that the bees need. If the bees need something, then it might be a nice day for them to take a break.
**Participant:** I always thought I could be in the field observing. I wondered if there was something that would stop you from doing that?
And what might that be?
**Participant:** Maybe they're going to get too stressed if you stay. Maybe it's just that feeling that you're letting them down if you're not working with them. So, maybe that's a more important thing to work on. To work with the bees rather than just observing them.
But also you said that there would be times that you could observe them, and there would be times when you wouldn't be able to observe them, because the bees might be going to another part of the garden. And you said there's something to work on. So, in a way, if you have the awareness to know when you're more able to observe them and when you are not, and you're able to actually say, "Okay, I am able to observe them. I have no other reason for not observing them," then, I agree with you, you'd have the choice of doing that. And then you'd have the awareness to know when you are not able to observe them and when you are not.
I agree with you that there's a lot of work to do on learning about what we're really doing. How the bees are doing when we're interacting with them and what the nature of the interaction is. And how we can learn how to use that interaction to learn what the bees are doing. Not just to observe them.
Can I ask you a question? What did the lady who ran the hive say? When I was there was the time of year that she had said that she didn't want to look after the bees anymore. And she went out and she went to do something else, like going to an event or something like that. And I heard that there had been a time when she was actually in the area where they were, and she had gone in and actually picked them up. And that's what they do in some areas.
So she didn't say there would never be a time that they would leave, but did she say there would never be a time that she would leave them, where they would be unattended? Did she say that?
**Mary Evelyn:** She didn't say that, no. She said it's about timing. Like you said, if there's a time in the day where it's too hot or too cold for them to fly, or if it's during some of the times that they're feeding, if they're not going to come into the hive for a certain period of time, or if they don't feel comfortable in the area of the hive, because you'll see they will not go back to the hive.
Like, for example, if you open the hive, or they are coming in through the window or anything like that. They don't go back. And also it can be after a while where you know they've stopped flying. You've noticed that they haven't gone out to forage, or to fly. They haven't gone out for a while.
But she said it's when they are going to be gone for too long that you have to decide whether you are going to look after them, whether you're going to leave them, or whether you are going to move them into another area. And she said that she doesn't leave them overnight when it's too hot or too cold for them to be in their area.
**Adrian:** No, that's good. That makes sense.
**Mary Evelyn:** Yeah.