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OBSERVATION: Petting Bumblebees and Butterflies

No, I'm not mashing this bumblebee's face into the flower. I'm gingerly petting it with my finger.


After I read Tom Brown, Jr's account of petting bumblebees, and his subsequent swollen finger and pride, I had to try this for myself. Actually, I first tried butterflies, and the principle is the same, just the worst a butterfly can do to you is to flutter off in a huff.


Late this summer ('99) Julie and i were out taking pictures of butterflies along the road past the Fish Hatchery, when the Joe-Pye Weed was in full force, and the butterflies were all over the place. A few of them had been thru quite a bit (either traveling, fighting, or cars) and were quite a bit ragged. Most swallowtails didn't have tail-knobs, and many of the others had lost scales on their wings. Julie and i felt sorry for them and after standing around photographing them, they got pretty used to our presence. That day we both petted their furry little backs, especially the ragged ones that looked like they could use a scratch on the thorax.


A few weeks later, by myself, i was taking pictures of flowers along the Shut-In trail and it was a bit nippy. I noticed the bumblebees were sluggish and so, remembering Tom's account, i calmed myself, and practiced swaying with the breeze. After a while i started talking to them, telling them how i meant no harm and how amazed i was for their productivity (I'm not sure exactly WHAT i said, but i think its more important the good thoughts and soothing voice). Finally, after a good long time, i reached my finger out and stroked one of them that was pretty engrossed in the flowertop. She stopped cold, and raised her middle legs in a sort of warning stance, as if to say "Watch it, Bub!" but she didn't fly off. So after smiling at her and talking some more i touched her furry little back. I had to swallow the feeling of being thrilled, because i could tell the bees could sense my state, but i was amazed, too! I talked to her and lightly (you can't imagine how lightly!) kept stroking her back as she grazed. She even paused at times, making me think she might have even enjoyed it some. I tried other bumblebees, calming them and petting them. I could tell that good intentions were not enough, i had to still my internal dialog, accept both of us as equals in the world.

One bumbler was my favorite... she had a large narrow tuft of yellow-white hairs almost to her head. Made her look like she had a yellow mohawk. She was the toughest little bee, too. She warned me several times which made me wonder about how smart it was to press my luck, but finally she took a couple of swabs on the back. The photo above is not her. For this one i had to work the camera with one hand while stroking the bee with the other. The flash didn't seem to bother them, but i'm sure i wasn't as calm as before, either.

Still, i didn't get stung, and that's something. Now, maybe it's a personal prejudice, but there's no way i'd even try that with a wasp. They look like predatory miniature Stuka's or something, and i have no desire to pet them. Will probably go on to try it with honeybees though. They seem friendly enough.


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