Monday, January 15, 2007

Animal of the Week, January 15, 2007 -- The early bee catches the erm... cold

While AOTW is vetoing birds, this week’s animal would be rather apposite, if only the sighting of two Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumble bees) in early January was not completely wrong! Get me the Bill on the phone.... no, not the police, Bill Oddie! For like frozen frogspawn in February or migrant martens in March, this is an early sign of Spring, which make the airing of the TV Springwatch in May rather redundant.

Clearly a sign of global warming and harbinger of impending extinction of polar bears, I shall not dwell on inevitable meteorological catastrophes. Instead, let us big up the bee! Buff-tailed bumble bees are the UK ’s largest bee, the queens (as they were that I saw) being about 2·5 cm in length (taller if you include the size 45 stilettos and Dusty Springfield bouffant wig -- queens see, boooom boooom).

Mated queens go into hibernation at the end of autumn when the frosts arrive, emerge in early spring (spring, not January… foolish bees), gather some pollen and nectar and start colony. Once she has bred a few worker daughters, the queen gives up foraging herself and becomes and egg laying machine, the colony grows throughout the early summer. Towards the end of the summer, the queen lays some unfertilised eggs that will develop into the males (drones) and some fertilised eggs that will become the new queens. As autumn ends, the breeding animals leave the nests and mate, then when the frosts arrive, all the workers, drones, and old queens die.

The queens and worker females have stings, but the drones don't. And if you leave bees alone, they are most unlikely to sting you.

If you spot any bees about over the next couple of weeks, call them silly bees and send them on their way, pitying their crazy buff tails, which will likely be frozen dead in a couple of weeks. Global warming, eh?

Number of legs: 6
Celebrity a-like: Bea Arthur 30 (queens score highly, others low)
Top speed: 10 mph
Tenacity: 4
Likelihood of hurting The Feeling: 65%
Aesthetically pleasing: 5
Violence: 2
Can be kept on a roof terrace: 30
Religiousity: 15
Special skill: Buzzing 80


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