(aka Bike, est. 2007)
Copyright© 2017 Angharad
This is a work of fiction any mention of real people, places or institutions is purely coincidental and does not imply that they are as suggested in the story.
“There’s no such thing as a bee cuckoo, is there?” asked Trish in such a manner that it was obvious she expected me to say no, I’d been joking.
Of course, like little George Washington, I cannot tell a lie—and that’s another one—doh. “I don’t know about bee cuckoos but there are cuckoo bees.”
“What bees that go cuckoo instead of buzzing?”
I suppose it’s a reasonable question, after all we call the cuckoo what it is from the male bird’s call, but we use the term cuckoo to relate to parasitism of a particular sort of which she is oblivious. It wouldn’t be for much longer.
“Go and look up cuckoo bees and then we’ll talk about it.”
She shrugged and frowned and went off, or did she frown then shrug? She definitely went off last otherwise I wouldn’t have seen her shrug or frown—what the heck. I busied myself with making a cuppa for myself and Danielle who’d been the only one not to come out into the garden, she’d been doing her homework.
“You okay, sweetheart?”
“As much as anyone can be after doing their French homework.” I passed her a mug of tea.
“It wasn’t one of my better subjects...”
“I know along with maths, physics, Latin...”
“Hey, less of the put down, missy, I’ve done all right for someone who can’t count, I got a master’s degree for counting animals.”
“If I’d kent that, ye’d widnae have.”
“See there is life after death,” I said nodding at Tom as he wandered into the kitchen and Danielle snorted tea everywhere. “I suppose you want some tea, Daddy?”
“Nae me, I’m off for a wee drap o nectar.”
“A single malt nectar, no doubt?”
“See ye can be clever at times...”
“But this isn’t one of them,” I finished for him, he needs to change his punch lines if he wants to make a real impact.
He smiled sweetly and left us to drink our teas and talk about my disasters in French, no, my disaster which was French, s’il vous plait.
“Yet your French teacher’s wife recognised you were really a girl long before the others,” said my daughter.
“How’d you know about that?”
“Mr Whitehead’s journal, remember?”
“Yes I do, I’d just forgotten you’d read it.”
“They lay their eggs in other bees nests,” declared Trish walking back with her iPad in her hand.
“What do?” asked a bemused Danni.
“Cuckoo bees, what else?” snapped Trish.
“Hang on a minute, short arse, I wasn’t there when you were talking about bees,” responded the taller of the two.
Trish glared at her older sibling, “Look at this stupid photo of a cuckoo bee asleep.”
(Photo courtesy of wikipedia, photographer Giles Gonthier)
I took the iPad and gasped at the picture, it was an amazing one of a cuckoo bee of the genus Nomada asleep and it was resting by its mandibles—effectively it was hanging on to a twig by biting on it. I showed it to Danielle who also thought it was a brilliant photo.
“Why d’you think the photo is stupid?”
“The photo isn’t but the bee is, if it snores it’ll fall off.”
Once again Danielle ended up with tea up her nose. Trish can be a real health hazard at times.
“So these bees lay eggs in bee hives?” asked Danielle once her eyes had stopped running.
“There are some which parasitise hives but there are loads that go after bumble bee nests or even solitary bees. They tend to be most easily identified by lack of pollen baskets in the females and they usually have longer stings and less hair because they don’t secrete wax from their bodies so they’re more like armour plated.”
“Why?” asked Danni, a quite reasonable question.
I looked at Trish to answer it to see if she’d understood anything she’d read.
“Cause the bees attack them but rarely win and the cuckoo bee kills loads of them.”
“Talking of a defence against an invading bee or wasp, i can’t remember which, but one attacked a colony of bees and they swarmed around it and buzzed at full throttle and killed it by effectively cooking it to death.”
“Wouldn’t that kill some of them as well?” asked the elder girl.
“Probably but they don’t think about that, they’re defending their colony.”
“Pretty cool idea,” she concluded though I doubt she meant it literally, “so bees are quite bright.”
“In some ways, yes. Researchers have set up obstacles or changed the entrance to a nest and the bees usually work out how to get round it.”
“So they’re not just brainless clones?”
“They don’t really have brains as such, but they seem to possess some skills in problem solving, so have a form of intelligence.”
“If they’re so clever, how come the last things on their minds are their bums when they hit the windscreen?”
“They don’t hit the windscreens as much as they used to, I read an article in Science that suggested in some places, insects have declined by 80% which then means the birds and other creatures that feed on them are declining too.”
“What just in this country?” asked Danielle.
“No it’s much wider, including most of Europe and the US, Canada and other places.”
“That’s going to be a factor but also use of insecticides. According to the article, they noticed a decline when things like DDT were introduced and they didn’t seem to recover fully afterwards.”
“Wouldn’t that be good, I mean won’t that mean malaria will be reduced?”
“I don’t honestly know, it always seems to affect the things you don’t want to see go, the pest species seem to survive which is why they become pests.”
“Typical,” observed Danni.
“So is it farmers who kill them all?”
“Agriculture is a huge factor but so is loss of habitat and climate change.”
“Isn’t that killing off everything?”
“Not entirely, there will be one or two species who prosper and a hundred which don’t.”
“Isn’t that evolution, Mummy?” suggested Trish, “Survival of the fittest.”
I didn’t wish to have a rerun of my experience teaching evolution that morning. “It might well be, sweetheart.”
“Thought you teach evolution?”
“I do sometimes, but these days I don’t do much teaching, I supervise post graduate students—these are ones who’ve already got a degree and are studying for a masters or a doctorate. A lot of my job is management nowadays or applying for contracts for research.”
“Yeah, I heard you tell Daddy you spend half your life writing begging letters.” With that Trish turned and walked away taking her iPad with her. Danielle looked at me and then put down her mug before laughing—proving that she is capable of learning from experience.
“I’d better buzz off, have to finish my geography homework.”
“Used to enjoy geography,” I said thinking back to my days in school, though the teacher used to tease me.
“You wouldn’t with Sister Directionless.”
“Yeah her names something like Via Rosa, but as she don’t know if she’s coming or going, we call her...”
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