Friday, June 7, 2019

Amazing Bee-haviour

You would not bee-lieve some of this bee-haviour but it's true!

To become a registered beekeeper here in Provence, I took a practical course during 2014 and since then I've looked after my hives, EndeavourDiligence and Resolution (named by my husband).
Nothing tastes as good as honey produced by your own bees from your own 'terroir' (a French word that is more emotional than 'soil' or 'land'). It's not easy these days to keep honeybees alive but that makes beekeeping even more important, even on my small scale.

I never thought I'd be brave enough to become a beekeeper but here I am, fascinated by the habits of creatures that have been farmed by humans since prehistory, for almost 9,000 years according to archaeological evidence. And yet there is still so much we don't know. Which is good for a novelist!
When I realised that my heroine shape-shifted into a bee, I knew I was going to enjoy the research. Here are some amazing bee-facts. Not all of them found their way into Queen of the Warrior Bees but Mielitta's experiences as a bee draw on my own experience too. I shall reveal some of my own experiences in the next blog and I hope you enjoy finding out about bees as much as I have.

  • All worker bees are female. They map out their territory and communicate this by dances, which give exact directions to e.g. food or home, by distance and compass points.
  • The queen is female and on her mating flight she is impregnated by approx 10-20 male bees (drones) with the thousands of sperm needed to lay eggs all her life (6 years if she's lucky). After mating, she doesn't fly again unless she takes a third of the colony and swarms, leaving the old hive to a new queen (one of her daughters).
  • A queenless hive is doomed but the queen does not make decisions, other than those concerning egg-laying. When choosing a new home, scout bees are sent to investigate options and they dance their findings to the whole swarm.  They are more or less enthusiastic according to the quality of the new home's potential. Gradually, one dance is taken up by all the bees and that is the chosen home - democracy at work! Research shows that the chosen home is nearly always the best of those considered - better still, successful democracy at work!      
  • Drones successful in mating leave part of their body in the queen and die.
  • In my region, honeybees prepare for winter by throwing out all the drones. They are left outside to die and in the spring, the queen lays eggs which will become the new season's drones.
  • Bees can't see red and they can see ultra-violet so flowers look like they have targets and landing-paths, in a purplish world.
  • When worker bees want to raise a new queen, they feed royal jelly to a worker baby so she grows up as a queen. 
  • A newly-hatched queen will try to kill any other queens in her hive and will sting unhatched rivals to death in their cells. Many beekeepers believe that the murder victims 'sing', aware of death approaching. There are other theories about the song of the unborn queens but nobody doubts the song itself, a high, piping noise.

Extract from The Queen of The Warrior Bees

Chapter 1

Why was the Forest forbidden? The very word was unmentionable. Yet everybody knew it was out there. Otherwise, how could children scare each other with whispered stories of what might be in the Forest? Gigantic sticky-buds, striped man-eaters, slithery poison? Their imaginations ran wild in a tamed world. But as each child reached Maturity and passed – or failed – the ritual test, the word Forest disappeared from the new adult’s mind, like a leaf dropping in autumn.
     Mielitta had tried to ask adults why the Forest was forbidden but the word tied her tongue in tangled roots and instead she found herself asking the way to the schoolroom, or some other question so ludicrous that she was mocked for her stupidity. She sensed magecraft twisting her words but she could not force a different path from the one required of good citizens.
     Now she was the only child who'd seen eighteen year-cycles and still been told she was not ready for testing. Her old playmates moved around the same halls as she did, girls in silken robes, boys in leatherette jerkins and long trews, while she still wore a tabard over a child’s short britches and stuffed her hair into the coarse netting of a servant’s ugly snood.
     Flowers, thought Mielitta, as three girls in gowns like satin petals rustled past her. Grace, Felicity and Espoir had turned into a golden daffodil, a blue pansy and a violet campanula respectively. Mielitta knew these flowers from the books in the library, which she was tasked with cleaning each week. She remembered when the golden daffodil used to play leapfrog against the stable wall and when the violet campanula had linked pinkie fingers with her, swearing friendship forever. But even then, her finding had set her apart. All the other children had been born in the Citadel, not discovered as a baby by the Mage-Smith. She would always be a foundling, a freak.
     ‘The stones be with you, Lady Grace, Lady Felicity, Lady Espoir,’ murmured Mielitta, lowering her eyes. Barely nodding slender necks, expressions stonier than the walls they passed, the ladies swished past in silence, the better to ignore such a freak.
     Had they forgotten her when they reached maturity? Or did they prefer to forget their broken promises, made by childish pinkie fingers?
     As the chirruping gossip started up again behind her, Mielitta was warned of a potentially worse encounter by the brown scent of peat, a metallic clank and rumbling voices. She shrank into the shadows of an alcove, held her breath. Whichever route she took from her bed to the kitchen, there was always the risk of meeting Jannlou and his cronies.
I hope you enjoyed this blog, creating a buzz for my new novel. You can find out more and continue reading the first two chapters of Queen of the Warrior Bees here.