Fiona Presly formed a very strong bond with an unlikely friend last year. She will probably never forget it for the rest of her life.
She was gardening outside her home in Scotland she saw a queen bumblebee at her feet. The bee looked quite cold and disoriented. Afraid the bee might get stepped on, Fiona bent down to place the tiny insect on a flower. She had no idea at the time that this bee wasn’t like the rest.
“I picked her up and noticed there was something peculiar,” Presly says, “She had no wings.”
She didn’t know what to do, so Presly offered the bee some sugar water and set her on some flowering heather, hoping she would be able to manage on her own. When she checked back a few hours later, she discovered that the bee hadn’t moved.
A heavy storm was about to start, so Presly made a decision.
“I took her inside that night, kept her warm and fed her more,” she says, “I thought I would put her out the next day, but the weather was bad then too. So I kept her inside.”
The woman then contacted the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for help. She learned that the bee likely had a virus known to cause problems in wing development. Without the ability to fly, the insect’s chances of survival on her own were zero to none.
But since the bee was otherwise healthy, Presly decided to give her a shot at life. So, she got creative.
“I made a garden for her,” Presly said.
Since the little girl would have to walk from flower to flower to feed, Presly built her a private floral buffet. She used some netting and built the bee an enclosure full of blossoms where her winged counterparts couldn’t reach and deplete the pollen.
She named the queen Bee. The bee finally had it good.
Presly checked on Bee every day. She brought her small cups of sugar water if she seemed tired and even carried her indoors during bad weather.
At the time, Presly had no idea that a remarkable bond would soon form between her and Bee.
Every time Presly would come to check in on the little insect, something unexpected started to happen. Bee would eagerly come out from the flowers to greet her!
“She’d walk toward me and crawl on my hand,” Presly says, “She seemed so happy to see me. It made me stop and think — there’s something going on here.”
The reasons were unexplainable, but Bee seemed to really enjoy being in contact with the woman. Whenever Presly was around to hold her, she would immediately cheer up.
“It was like her whole being came to life. I think she liked the fact that she wasn’t alone,” Presly says, “I think she thrived on company, even from another species. They are naturally sociable creatures. That would be in their instinct.”
Presly was infatuated with Bee too.
“We were quite comfortable with each other,” she says, “There were things going on with this bee that were quite something.”
The two had formed a very strong bond – it was clear to even Presly’s family and friends.
Normally, a queen bumblebee would spend the spring and summer building a nest, mating and starting a colony — dying at the approach of autumn.
Under Presly’s care, however, Bee outlived it all. Sadly, her time finally ran out.
Five months after her rescue, the tiny queen bee fell asleep in Presly’s hand and never woke up again.
“I was sad when she died, but I knew it was going to happen. She was already older than she should have been,” Presley said. “It had been very special to stay with a wee creature, like Bee. The fact that she lived more than just a few weeks amazed me. That was rewarding in itself.”
Presly buried Bee’s body in her garden, joined by a favorite flower.
Presly’s experience with Bee was unexpected to say the least — but she says it has opened her eyes to the notion that the world may be more filled with feelings than most people realize.
“Now I view all insects in a different light. It’s changed my perception of what insects are like,” she says. “I think there’s an awful lot we don’t know.”
Presly admits she doesn’t know what Bee actually felt, but she suspects there might be something to learn from their time together. So, she came in touch with Lars Chittka, professor of sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University of London, and shared her story.
And in an article on the topic, Chittka acknowledges that Bee’s example could change our understanding of creatures like her as a whole: “Sometimes it takes an outsider’s careful observations, such as Mrs. Presly’s, to generate fresh views and prompt important questions.”
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