We seem to be working hard at killing off the world’s bees. What with Monsanto and their genetically modified corn fields and governments refusing to outlaw the pesticide that kills all comers. Pretty soon we could be in a situation where there is no natural pollination – just fly by spraying by stealth bombers. Roses don’t smell like roses anymore anyway – and Kenya experiences flower wars on the banks of Lake Naivasha. With the migrant workers that gather there to meet the world’s demand for Valentine roses – being subjected to intimidation and violence. Aah – aren’t we a special species. Turning beauty into darkness wherever we go.
But – in the spirit of my new movement towards “Resolute Optimism”, I am not going to drag you down with all that. Rather I am going to introduce you to Osmia Avosetta – a species of mason bee. Unique in that is solitary by nature, but even more so because of the flower sandwich it creates to house it’s larvae.
Each bee nest has room for a single larva, and is a three-tiered arrangement made up of a thin layer of petals on the outside, then a layer of mud, and finally another layer of petals lining the inside of the chamber. At the core of the sandwich is the bee’s larva, which feasts on nectar and pollen deposited inside the chamber by its parent before the egg is laid and the nest is sealed.
Alternating petal and mud layers are thought help to keep the larva’s food—nectar and pollen—moist for about ten days: according to Jerome Rozen, Turkish study leader and curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Afterward the larva spins a cocoon and falls into a ten-month slumber, waiting for spring.
And the bees have their own decorating preferences too: in Turkey they opt for yellow, pink, blue, and purple petals, while Iranian bees make their nests with only purple flowers. And the result – a work of art. Just like a bee.
(Note: The colorful nesting behavior was discovered on the same day by teams in Turkey and Iran. They evoked the spirit of bees everywhere and decided to share both labour and credit. Read more about their adventures at National Geographic. Photographs copyright Jerome Rozen.)