The Crawl of the Bumblebee

There is common description of Iowans called, “Iowa nice.” Iowa nice means: you make eye contact and say, “Hi,” to EVERYONE (this is does not work in California-people will think you have legit issues), no one goes when its their turn at a four way stop due to being too polite, and if you accidentally bump another human you both move your hands awkwardly, similar to a bird of paradise’s odd mating dance, and stutter, “Ope. Sorry. I’m so sorry. Are you okay? So sorry.”

There is only a small window of time when “Iowa nice” no longer applies in Iowa: the wretched month known as July.

July in Iowa is brutal. It is generally above 80 °F (averaging 85 °F),and often reaches temperatures closer to 95 °F . That doesn’t even include the heat index due to humidity. When it’s humid and above 80 °F , humans turn into dewy, half-melted blobs of life that really should stay inside.

That is when you see the Mr. Hyde to Iowa’s Dr. Jekyll1 nice. People shoulder you out of line for ice cream, conversations turn sluggish and people stare into space a lot, while driving you see many birds of the middle finger persuasion, and bumping into someone is mortifying, because they might actually stick to you. It’s complete chaos.

In July 2018, I observed an interesting phenomenon: the little pollinators that were generally “Iowa nice,” perky, and adorable, morphed into lumpy, stumbling, droopy-winged, and grumpy fuzz butts. I did not realize how much temperature affected bees.

The bees were no longer singing, “We flit, we float, we fleetly flee, we fly2.” Instead they were mumbling, “We drop, we droop, we stumble down, we die.” I mean, it wasn’t that dramatic, but I feel the bees were definitely struggling and just wanted a break. I admit, I might have projected my feelings about the heat on them as an explanation of their behavior. More data will be needed. At the very least, I empathized with their situation.

I had a moment with a particular bumblebee in July 2018. It was above 90 °F and the relative humidity was something ridiculous like 60%. It was oppressive. It was so hot that you could see the change in the refractive index: the air surrounding objects appeared wavy. I felt like I was melting and I didn’t want to be around myself.

I was nauseated from the heat and doing the best I could to be a productive team member by sitting in the shade and just taking pictures. That’s when my spirit animal made herself known. A beautiful bumblebee defied the laws of her kind and acted somewhat lazy. Instead of being busy and collecting nectar efficiently through flight, she literally just crawled across flowers.

She was me, in bee form. How do I know? I am strongly motivated by food; same with her (she only moved to eat). I was hot and sleepy; same, again. We bonded. Obviously, I took 82 photos of her.

I was fascinated because her whole posture and demeanor reflected my attitude that day. Girl was hot, hangry, and tired. I have never understood another organism as well as this bee. We spent fifteen miserable minutes together. She didn’t even care that the camera lens was mere inches from her face. She just sucked in nectar, barely buzzed to shake pollen loose, and took frequent breaks.

This is her journey on a terribly hot day (I am only sharing 9 of the 82 pictures-otherwise, you would just be observing the world’s most boring stop-motion photography):

Bombus spp.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
A few buzzes to loosen pollen, but much less than what I normally observed.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
Getting as much nectar as possible. Poor thing. There is no nectar fridge.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
“Should I fly?”
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
“Meh. I’ll just fall over here.”
I seriously thought she was dying as she plopped down.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
She rested in this position for over 7 minutes. I took pictures of other organisms and checked on her every 30 seconds. No buzzing sounds were emitted. She even lowered her antennae. I think she actually took a small nap.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
She finally found a good nectar source and parked it here for quite a bit. No buzzing sounds were emitted.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
After a few minutes of eating, she began to perk up and buzzed a few times.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey
Girl is more resilient than me. She finished her meal and then stayed in this position for a couple minutes. Her antennae were the only parts that moved. She took off after her break.
© 2019 Mandy Duffey

I bet you’re wondering, “Did Lazy Girl Naturalist find this bee inspirational and continue being a productive member of society that day?” Nope. I went into the air conditioning and laid on my back on the floor for a few minutes, before downloading photos. Then I went home.

I proceeded to avoid the entire month of July by working in the lab and identifying bee specimens and labeling photos. I didn’t fly. Just like my bumblebee friend, I crawled through the month of July.


1 Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894. (1981). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York :Bantam.

2Rodgers, Richard and Oscar Hammerstein II (1965). So Long, Farewell [Recorded by Charmain Carr, Heather Menzies, Kym Karath, Duane Chase, Angela Cartwright, and Debbie Turner]. On The Sound of Music. Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization Production.

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