Saturday, June 23, 2012

Phenology for 6/23/12: Bees Banished

What's been happening during the last week? Beautiful, sunny, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines weather. A little rain, but only at night. I have been enjoying these sunny days. Scott County hasn't had nearly enough sunshine in the last few years.

School is out for the summer. Non-rural children have taken over the computer center. I've left it to them. But I've had a nagging feeling all week that I really needed to share the end of the bee story.

Nobody wanted the bees. They weren't on the porch long; they were a small straggling group and had produced less than a pint of icky sticky stuff, mostly wax.

I don't own a bee smoker. While considering whether I needed to try to borrow one, or improvise one by burning green hedge clippings in a metal storage drum, I stumbled across an aerosol can of insect repellent in the cellar. Usually I buy the aerosol-free reusable spray bottles, which are more efficient if your goal is to scent your ankles while inhaling the minimum possible amount of Deet. A few years ago, networking with another junk dealer, I'd bought some aerosol cans of Deet on sale. It occurred to me that, if these bees had moved in because they didn't like the chemicals in the air where they had been before, they might move out if the porch smelled of Deet.

So I sprayed Deep Woods Off! on the porch, and the cats started complaining (most animals hate Deet as much as insects do), and the bees started moving out. Encouraged, I sprayed the scent directly on the wax. The queen bee crawled out. Since I wanted to move her, not kill her, and not frighten her enough to make the workers attack, I went out into the unsprayed yard and entertained the kittens for half an hour.

At the end of that time the bees had completely abandoned their colony. Scraping and mopping up their mess didn't take long, either.

Deet is supposed to be a harmless repellent to most insects. I've heard that some large animals, including humans, have nasty reactions to it and that it kills some insects. The environmental hazards of anything sprayable are hard to observe, because simply coating an insect with anything that clogs its breathing pores will kill it; if you really want to kill insects fast you can squirt them with dishwashing soap, alcohol, or butter flavoring. At least I didn't see dead bees.

I continue to see living bees with vile habits in the yard. Normally bees are attracted to flowers, especially clover. In the absence of DNA studies, I've assumed that these bees had some "African" ancestry because I've seen them consistently ignoring clover and slurping up moisture from the kittens' litter box and from the dead kitten. Theoretically this taste, which is aberrant in the African breed, has been completely bred out of the Italian breed. Also, Italian bees usually live and travel in large groups, Africans in small groups. Also, the domestic, purebred Italian bees in the neighborhood were thought to have been wiped out by fungus infections ten years ago. So these bees definitely seem to be African. However, these breed characteristics are mutations that occurred naturally within a species; I don't know that these feral bees haven't evolved African-like traits through natural selection, in the absence of African ancestors. They certainly don't seem aggressive.

Along Route 23, the evidence of poisoning faded fast. For a few days strips of scorched-looking vegetation were conspicuous alongside every guardrail. Then all the sunny weather started to dry out the grass on the bluffs in between the guardrails, so the whole roadside began to look brownish, like August rather than June. Some of the bluffs were dappled with daisies before the guardrails were sprayed, and they still are. Overall, if you're driving down Route 23 today, you'd think all you're seeing is the effects of a three-week drought. Not as much vetch and clover, and not as many other wildflowers as were blooming last June. But still--rub those daisy haters' noses in it!--lots of pretty June daisies are blooming on the bluffs.

I'm conscious of feeling "old" more often than I was before poisoning. I've had a few more attacks of what look like pollen allergies or a sinus infection, and are neither. I've had better summers, health-wise; I've had worse ones. All the cats are a bit bleary-eyed, but most of them seem to be recovering too.

I've not felt inclined to walk through the poison zone just to go into town and research the effects of poisoning on the rest of the neighborhood. Have hospital admissions spiked? Have people bought more over-the-counter allergy meds than last year...and complained that the meds didn't work? The value of the Internet is that people without corporate funding can use the'Net to study these questions, which we know the corporate-funded programs are not going to study if they can help it. But for a few more weeks I plan to spend as much time at home as possible.