Last week, as I walked home in the dark evening with heavy food shopping bags cutting into my hands, I started thinking about the hefty burdens worker bees carry.
It looks idyllic when bees fly past with leg baskets laden with bright pollen. A successful trip; they have found food to bring home to their sisters. But those little bees are often carrying around half their own body weight in water, propolis, nectar and/or pollen. Female bees weigh 90mg and typically bring home around 40mg of nectar in their honey stomach. Strong though they are, there must be a physical strain associated with that. Perhaps even pain?
I feel pain in my arms and shoulders when I carry heavy bags, so it doesn’t seem an unreasonable thought to me that the workers might be feeling discomfort too. Not only that but perhaps stress – after all they must dodge multiple obstacles on their way home. Birds looking out for a tasty snack, zooming cars, people who dislike insects.
What a relief it must be for a forager bee to return safely back to her colony. To unpack her pollen into a cell or pass her nectar to a eager house bee. A load unburdened – it feels good to come home, doesn’t it? To wipe your feet and rest for a moment.
Each time she leaves the hive and flies out into the outside world, she takes a risk. I hope that landing on a flower is a joyous, sensual experience for her, as her feet taste the nectar and her brain takes in the heavy scent. A reward for the weight her little body is carrying. During the short 4-6 week typical life span of a foraging bee, she will work herself to death, her wings fraying and her body gradually wearing out.
A winter bee lives such a different life to the summer sisters she never knew. A winter bee will never feel the warmth of summer sun on her back. Instead she spends most of her life in the dark, huddling round her mother and fellow winter sisters, slowly feeding on the energy filled honey her summer sisters spent so much time and effort gathering. Hemmed in by the cold. Who has it easier, I often wonder. Which would you rather be?