‘Bobbi,’ an Andrena, or mining, bee took the long way home (another great road trip song!) the other day while out foraging for pollen and nectar.
Good Natured: Bobbi the Bee
June 23, 2023
Gosh I love a good road trip. And a good road trip song.
Granted, most of my road trips these days consist of driving a park district van to and from nature programs. But it never hurts to crank up the tunes, like maybe a little Tom Petty Runnin’ Down a Dream, or Paul Simon’s Graceland.
The other day though I couldn’t help but notice, I was living my own version of one of the greatest road songs of all time, Me and Bobby McGee. No, I wasn’t busted flat in Baton Rouge, and my dirty red bandana was in the wash. But there I was, cruising down Route 64, just me and Bobby the Bee.
Actually, I think my bee buddy might have been a Bobbi. (Big thanks to local bee expert Terry Miesle for that determination.)
At any rate, when I discovered I wasn’t alone I at first was excited-a traveling companion, how fun! But then the implications of this new development started to sink in.
I could see that Bobbi was a bee in the genus Andrena and, as such, was tied to a small territory, one where she’d likely excavated a tunnel and would deposit her eggs. She was probably out gathering pollen when she took a wrong turn and flew into the van. With every mile we rode she was traveling farther from home and the friendly confines of her carefully constructed burrow.
I don’t speak bee, but I’m pretty good at reading body language. Given her agitated pacing, I’m fairly certain her little bee brain was thinking, “Ruh roh,” or maybe a saltier “Shazbot!”
Undoubtedly confused by the concept of glass, she first walked around the inside of the windshield; then, as we turned north she moved over to the driver’s side window. She settled there, legs akimbo, and watched as her homeland faded into the distance.
I sympathized with her plight. One evening, a very long time ago, I fell asleep on a Metra train headed north to my then-home in Evanston. I woke up as the train jolted away from Evanston’s Central St. stop, and then spent the next 5 minutes looking forlornly out the window as my station got farther and farther away. Like Bobby McGee, I sang the blues for sure that night during the long walk home from Wilmette.
Meanwhile, back in the van, as Bobbi the Bee and I approached a red light, a plan to get Bobbi safely back home started to take shape. Once fully stopped, I picked up a mostly empty bottle of kombucha that was sitting in the cupholder, slugged down the dregs, and carefully placed the opening over an inert Bobbi.
Frightened, or maybe peeved, Bobbie flew up and into the bottle, which allowed me to slip my hand over the top, twist on the cap and return the bottle to the cupholder-all before the light turned green!
From that point to our destination, my concerns for Bobbie switched from being worried about her flying out of the van and into unknown territory to being nervous that she’d get too wet as she waited for her release. Despite my best slurps, a little bit of liquid still remained in the bottom, and she was a small bee. “Hang in there Bobbi!” I said out loud as we pulled into the parking lot of the retirement community I was to speak at that day.
The next dilemma presented itself as I grabbed by laptop and assorted visual aids. It was pretty warm out, in the low 80s, and the sun was shining. If Bobbi stayed in the van for the next hour she’d surely overheat. So, to the program she went.
As it turns out, a bee in a bottle is actually a pretty good way to start a nature program. Lots of lively discussion ensued as Bottled Bobbi made her way around the room.
At the end of the presentation, still worried about the excess moisture in the bottle, I grabbed a couple napkins, rolled them into a tube, took off the cap and carefully slid them in. Within seconds Bobbi clambered onto the soft, dry paper and immediately began grooming herself. Antennae first, then legs, she lapped away the tiny droplets of fermented tea she’d been wading in for over an hour.
For the drive back to St. Charles, I wedged the bottle on the floor, in a space out of direct sunlight; then, when we arrived home, I picked up the bottle and…no Bobbi!
Well, that’s what I thought at first. As a tunnel-making Andrenid bee, she’d followed her instincts and climbed into the napkin tube. Again, I don’t speak bee, but as she peered out from the deep recesses of her paper burrow, she certainly appeared to feel quite at home. So much so, in fact, that I had a little trouble getting her to leave.
With the cap off the bottle, I gave it one gentle shake, then two. Finally, I pulled the napkin tunnel out and watched as Bobbi climbed up to the top. I was about to snap a picture of her, poised for takeoff, but I wasn’t quick enough. Freedom beckoned, and off she flew.
She seemed none the worse for the detour she’d taken, and I felt pretty good about having shepherded her safely back to her home territory. I suppose I could have looked around to see if I could find where her burrow was. And maybe I could have made sure she made it there safely. But you know what?
Feelin’ good was good enough for me, mm-hmm
Good enough for me and my Bobbi the Bee.
Pam Otto is the outreach ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at email@example.com.