On an early, abnormally hot spring day, I sat outside reading. The clouds occasionally absorbed the heat of the sun and offered short reprieves from the heat. I stopped reading often; I had just started a new book, and it was taking some time getting used to the characters and pacing. As my eyes wandered the little patch of green I called my yard, I noticed many insects flying quietly just above the grass. At first glance they looked like flies, but they were oblong and hovered with purpose, unlike the irregular, spastic routes of flies that have no regard for personal space. These insects came close to my feet, but never touched. Their bodies, I noticed, were furrier than flies and were a dull grey colour. When one finally slowed enough for my eyes to be able to take a longer look, my chest fluttered in excitement. Bees? Were they honey bees? I panned over towards my apartment building and saw dozens more buzzing around about a foot off the ground.
Part of me froze in fear, suddenly alarmed at the number of the stinging insects. As much as I celebrate their existence, I still take care around bees, and my initial reaction is to tense up and to stay clear. But, as I took in the sight, my fear dissolved into delight.
From ten feet away, I studied the bees that were flying above the sandy, rocky area of my building’s dripline. As I observed, my excitement rose. I saw a larger bee rise above the rest and tangle with another in midair. I thought I was witnessing a honey bee mating ritual. I quickly Googled whatever crossed my mind: “honey bee mating,” “young drones in spring,” “color of young honey bees.” I read that queen honey bees mate in the air, about 25 feet above the ground. Then I saw several large bees. I searched for “bees in my yard” and found results about “mining bees.” After some very quick reading, I determined I probably did in fact have mining bees in my yard and the males were the ones I had seen first. The bigger ones were indeed females and only the females could sting, but wouldn’t unless threatened. I opened the camera on my phone and slowly walked towards where the bees were hovering the thickest, snapping pictures and videos only inches from the bees.
It’s quite beautiful that such small creatures are unperturbed by a giant walking among them, holding a large red and white phone in front of them. Yet we, large lumbering beasts, feel threatened by such peaceful insects at the first millisecond of a buzz we can hear. As I walked among them, I thought back to an article I wrote on urban bees when I was in college. I can’t remember when I first learned about how important bees are to the well-being of the world. I think it was a botany class earlier in my college years. Or maybe a friend told me. Anyway, the science journalism class I took in my last year of school offered me the chance to write about something more exciting than politics or campus news, and as I contacted local beekeepers, grad students, and geneticists, I fell in love with bees. So much so that I believe any friend I had that semester became annoyed (although they did not all express it) at my constant–and unsolicited–presentation of bee factoids. But these were not honey bees in my yard and I was thrilled to learn more about what sort of native bee species found its way to me. I began referring to them as “my bees.”
My book quickly forgotten and the sun slowly sinking, giving off its final and strongest rays of the day, I sat in the rocks outside my ground-floor window, mesmerized by my bees. They barely made a sound as they flew around. Doing what, I still had to figure out. I saw a female brush briefly with a couple of males, but they didn’t mate. All the bees seemed to be relatively preoccupied with their individual missions. I fell in love, and I watched as they tested the ground and began to burrow into it. Looking around I saw many openings of what I assumed to be the beginnings of homes. How many were occupied, I could not tell, but it was clear the insects were aptly named. After a few more clicks of my camera, I gathered my things and let them be, anxious to learn more about my colony of mining bees in the coming weeks.