Honeybees and Mesquite
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The other day I amused myself for a while by photographing Honeybees as they visited flowers on a mesquite tree. The mesquites are in full bloom now and they attract hordes of bees. The tree that I observed had hundreds of bees foraging on it. Indeed, there were so many of them that I could hear a constant loud humming noise as I took my pictures. The bees ignored me. As far as they were concerned I held as much interest for them as an inanimate object.
Nearly all of the Honeybees in southern Arizona have become “Africanized,” which is to say that they have interbred with bees of African origin that have spread north from their original point of invasion in South America. By reputation, Africanized bees are far more aggressive than the European Honeybees (all Honeybees in the Western Hemisphere were introduced here from somewhere else, they are not native to this part of the world). That’s certainly true if one gets too close to a hive. But, when the bees are out foraging they couldn’t care less about being observed, even very closely, so long as they’re not molested. So, I can stick my lens within inches of these bees without any concern about being stung.
Mesquite trees not only attract hordes of bees when they are in bloom, but they are a source of nutrition for all sorts of species other than bees. Indeed, they are a habitat unto themselves. Later in the summer, when the mesquites put out their beans (mesquites are related to the domestic pea), numerous species will come to gorge on them. These will include insects, birds, and mammals. Native Americans historically have harvested mesquite beans as a food source. The honey that these bees produce from mesquite nectar is highly prized.
You’ll notice that the wings on the bee in the second picture are rather tattered looking. Bees work hard for a living and life is short for them. After a few weeks at most, they die from exhaustion. The hive goes on, however, because the queen is constantly laying new eggs and many of the workers devote themselves to raising the larvae to adulthood. A large hive may contain tens of thousands of worker bees, all supporting a single queen. In southern Arizona the hives remain active year round and some may attain enormous size.
The total number of bees that are active in southern Arizona must be immense. At Sabino Canyon, where I made these photos, there are thousands of mesquite trees and virtually all of them are blooming. And, nearly all of these trees are covered with bees! On a couple of occasions over the years I’ve come across hives while hiking in Sabino Canyon. It is advisable to give these hives a wide berth because, contrary to what foraging bees might do, the hives’ residents will vigorously defend themselves and their queen if approached too closely. Usually, one can hear a hive long before one sees it. The humming noise made by tens of thousands of bees is truly impressive.
Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 160, f16 @ 1/160.