OH BEE CITY • by Michele Baron

It’s summer again. Bikini season. I try to lose weight, really. I exercise, drink water, cut calories. I try to emulate slender people, slender species — to learn, and become something greater, well, thinner, but greater than myself in the process.

I’ve never seen an overweight bee. Of course, I cannot match their rate of exertion. Those little fillies beat their wings 11,400 times per minute. If I could move anything that fast, the pounds would melt off and flee. Of course, maybe that’s why bees’ wings are transparent, too. No room for extra baggage.

They do say that the baggage of our lives prompts overeating. We surround ourselves with insulation from the madding world, like bears going into hibernation. And, in preparing to hibernate, our brains tell us to … hunt, and EAT.  Eat now, survive later. Unfortunately for the tipping of my scales, we have a constant, easily-accessed food supply. We never actually hibernate; we never stop eating.

Bees don’t hibernate either. They weave and pace, in an endless dance, keeping the interior “cluster” of their hives a balmy 32° – 35°C (89° – 95° F). If it gets too hot, they ventilate. If it gets too cold, they flex their little flight muscles (having detached them from wing function), and warm things up. I have tried flexing my muscles, sitting and working at my desk, or when in a car, or during conversation. I try, when people look at me strangely, to explain that I am trying to “BEE Fit,” but then I get uncomfortable with the staring, and I stop before I really lose any weight.

They’re smart, too. Bees only warm up their winter store of honey as needed — no over-indulging. Of course, girl bees are always single, and they do the work of building, filling and maintaining the hive, building little apian muscles, staying in shape their whole adult lives. All 30,000 to 60,000 of the bees in a hive, at any one time, are doing age-specific jobs. Bees seem to live longer in the winter, maybe because they are not flying all over, pollinating about 170.000 plant species.

To produce a kilogram of honey, bees must visit about four million flowers — 20,833 flowers every teaspoon of honey.  Forget about flying. If I did even 20,000 toe touchers every time I had tea with honey, I would be rail thin. And pretty limber, too, I’m guessing.

Compared to the flower-season, paradoxically celibate working girls, the Queen Bee doesn’t get out much. But Queenie sure makes up for lost time when she does get out. Starting her adult life, the Queen kills her competition, and flies — to orient herself in the world, and to mate — with up to 20 drones, killing them in the process. Three days later, the mated queen settles down, and begins to lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. The Queen never forgets her humble roots, because, apparently, any fertilized-egg baby COULD grow up to be queen, if the worker bees select an egg under three days of age and feed them special “royal jelly” so that they can become sexually-mature queen bees.

The mature Queen may leave the hive again, after being denied food, so she is light enough to fly, and cajoled, enticed, and prodded to take wing by her coterie of worker bees, when a new Queen is about to hatch. The Old Queen and her swarm of elder bees set up a new hive, and the new Queen steps out to live life. She might kill any nearly-hatched rival queens, or she might swarm (I suppose, with the middle-aged bee workers, and a few attractive drones) as well, leaving the hive for yet a third Queen and the remaining bees.

Wait a minute. It sounds like the Queen bee gets a bit hefty, if she has to slim down before leaving the hive once she has commenced egg-laying. And she has a smaller brain than the worker bees. She lives 3 – 5 years, sure, but laying an egg every 20 seconds, day and night, could cut down on a girl’s social life, to say nothing of being able to take time out for exercise or fun. It’s a wonder she can fly at all, when the swarm leaves the hive.

Alright… I guess I don’t want to be a drone (they hatch in 24 days, live a life of leisure, flying to the Drone Congregation Area, waiting for some young virgin queen to fly by every day during the summer, and then, one way or another, they die… not too thrilling). I don’t really want to be a Queen, I guess (not a queen bee, anyway. Once a month is bad enough; every 20 seconds? … worse than being a chicken. I could go insane).

That leaves the worker bees: hatched in 21 days, learning to clean their bedrooms the first two days of their adult lives. Then they “give back” and feed first the older larvae (not quite hatched), and then the younger larvae (where some caution must be exercised) for the next few days. By the time a worker bee is 12 days old, she can produce wax, build the comb, and act as undertaker (an especially arduous job in the autumn, when all those lazy drones have to leave).

By the time a girl bee is 18 days old, she knows the ropes well enough to guard the hive entrance, learn the waggle dance from the flying bees, and show a little muscle. At 22+ days, she finally gets to spread her own wings, flying out to pollinate plants, and collect pollen, nectar, and water to bring back to the hive. A well-ordered life, to be sure, but quite short, if 40 days is the average.

I think I will forego the wings, and carry on with my slow-paced, diet-ridden, human existence. But I will never look at a teaspoon of honey the same way again.

World-traveler and former Fulbright Fellow Michele Baron currently lives in Kyrgyzstan, develops outreach projects, writes poetry, prose, non-fiction, and has self-published three books so far: A Modest Menu: Poverty, Hunger and Food Security, in Poetry and Prose; A Holiday Carol; and blue wings unfolding. She grows plants for bees and pollinators, seldom travels anywhere tea or coffee are unavailable, and is a visual/performance artist, among other occupations.

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