a discovery of bees: meet delilah

While I had the fortune during my week off from work to observe the arrival of the mining bees in my yard, it was still early spring and the weather was chilly. Even with the sun out, the wind cooled the skin and the star’s rays never fully warmed thoroughly enough to fend off the spring breeze.

It rained during the night after I discovered the bees. It was a hard rain too, and I worried about the newly dug holes the bees had been working so furiously to create. Despite my fear for their well being, I convinced myself that they would be fine. I was sure the bees had evolved well enough to figure out how to burrow into the ground and not be washed away in a spring thunderstorm. However, when I looked up mining bees, they often dug into slanted hills, or sides of ditches, to help prevent the rains from destroying their homes. My bees had made their homes in flat, sandy soil, mostly beneath the roof of the apartment building, but also right where the rain drained off the roof, creating even heavier drops to fall three floors below to where they burrowed. I prepared for utter destruction come morning.

Delilah and a dandelion

I found Delilah in the grass the first day I discovered the mining bees. I offered her a dandelion for some energy.

The damage was less than I thought it was going to be, but it was hard to see the entrances to each bee home. The cone of dirt they built up outside their openings had been beaten down significantly for the homes that hadn’t been fully protected by the apartment roof.

As I surveyed the holes, I remembered the bee I had seen lying in the grass the day before. When I first discovered the bee, I thought it was dead, and I was going to collect it for closer observation, but as I pushed the blades of grass down near it, I saw it twitch. It barely moved, but it was still alive. I wasn’t sure what it needed. I found a dandelion and placed it near the bee in a vain attempt to offer it some sustenance from something I had no idea if it could even use.

The day after the storm was still cloudy, wet, and quite cold. I made my way over to the bee in the grass to see if it had found its way home. If it wasn’t gone, I was sure it would now be dead, and I felt bad that I hadn’t done more to save the poor bee the day before.

delilah-and-finger.jpg

Delilah, only the size of my fore fingernail, was in rough shape after being pounded by rain overnight.

I found her where I had left her, the dandelion wilted and soggy. The bee’s wings were dark with moisture, her hair ruffled, and one of her front legs bent at an awkward angle. I hadn’t studied her close enough the day prior to see that she had probably been injured the whole time. I parted the grass around her again, and once more I saw her frail body twitch. What a durable creature. I dashed inside to grab some sort of container to put her in, determined this time to try to save her. I found a small dish—one fit for a small serving of salad dressing—and gently slid the cover beneath her and carried her to my porch, shielding her body from the wind that threatened to blow her away. I laid her on the cold cement for a minute to look more closely at her and took a picture to compare her size to my finger. Then I put her in the container and took her inside to help warm her up.

I had lunch plans that day with my aunt, and I was almost late meeting her for an Indian buffet. I was kind of nervous that my bee would wake up suddenly and be loose in my apartment and trapped inside, so I considered my options. I looked hard at my bee in the container, laying so still I wasn’t really sure if there was any hope she’d make it. I decided to name her Delilah, then carried her dish carefully in my hand, and took her with me to lunch.

Delilah in car

Delilah looks at me from inside her container as we prepare to drive off in my car to lunch.

By the time I got to the restaurant, Delilah had moved within her container, and I felt hopeful for her recovery. I showed my aunt, who was slightly bemused, and wasn’t sure why I had to bring the bee along, but laughed and said, “only you would bring a bee with you to lunch.” I left the bee in the car though, anticipating that the restaurant staff might question why I had a bee in their dining room, and I wasn’t sure how to adequately explain that one.

After lunch, Delilah was even more active. Her wings had lightened as they dried, although it looked like one was beyond repair. I struggled with the idea of killing her, wondering if it was a merciful thing to do if she was in pain, or if she was slowly recovering and would be able to fly away on her own again. She had survived so long already injured, outside in the cold, I couldn’t just ignore her resilience. But I had no idea how to nurse a bee back to health.

I can’t remember if I Googled what to do or if I shared a picture of Delilah and a friend on Facebook suggested it to me, but I mixed together a small bit of water and sugar, poured it in a shallow bowl, put rocks in the bowl, and placed Delilah on the rocks, with one little drop of sugar water close by for her to try if she wanted. Apparently, sugar water can help fatigued honey bees. I hoped it was the same for mining bees.

Delilah's bowl

Delilah sits in her new temporary home, a bowl of sugar water and rocks.

Occasionally I checked in on Delilah. She moved a little bit every now and then. I saw at one point that she had either stepped off or slid off a rock and was half in the sugar water. I helped her out and thought for sure that was the end of her, being now covered in a sticky substance that she certainly did not have the energy to try to clean off.

Delilah close up 2I took a few pictures and videos of Delilah. I considered sending her body to UW-Madison if she died so that they could for sure tell me what kind of bee she was and potentially use my mining bees for some sort of research, or put into a data file of native bee populations in the state of Wisconsin, but I became attached to Delilah. I obviously knew she was just a bee, and besides her broken wing and leg, there was no way for me to tell her apart from any other bee I saw outside. But there was just something so amazing to have the bee there with me in my apartment, now moving more than she had in a day and a half. I couldn’t just give her away to be dissected. I didn’t know for sure if the university would have been willing anyway.

Delilah backI should have tried to save Delilah earlier, so I felt I owed it to her to let her rest in peace, buried beneath the earth she came from days, or only a week before, to begin her short, yet productive, life. And that is what I did come late evening once I noticed that she had not moved in hours. She didn’t stir when I prodded her with a gentle breath of air. She didn’t move to grasp a thin stick I had used to place her in the sugar water dish. I only hoped that she had had enough time to lay her eggs upon a pod of pollen and seal her future offspring safely in the ground. The mining bee’s adult life is short, and it put me  at ease to consider that maybe Delilah had done all she had needed and had passed on normally as mining bees do, and that I will have the honor to look on at the new brood come spring, knowing that some of those bees had a very tough and beautiful mother named Delilah.

Delilah head on

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