The killing is not particularly dramatic—squishing her between the thumb and index finger of your gloved hand—and it only takes a second. You can turn your head away or stomp on her with your foot if you're that squeamish.
It shouldn't be that difficult. We swat flies or step on roaches and other insects without a thought, but this particular bug is different. She's worked ceaselessly to sustain the beehive, an incredibly complex society governed by rules and mores I'll never quite understand. She's no run-of-the-mill bug. Killing her feels ungrateful yet there is room for only one queen in a beehive.
Her death, however, quickly turned into a rebirth for the hive as a new queen arrived from Morelia, the capital of the neighboring state of Michoacán, neatly packaged for the trip in a wooden container the size of an old-fashioned matchbox, big enough to accommodate the queen and three or four other "attendant bees". The queens are marked with a tiny dot of paint, the color of which indicates the year they were bred. Green is the color for 2014 though these dots are difficult to see unless you're an expert.
|Business class: The new queen arrives in a small wooden carrier,|
along with three or four other "attendant bees"
that keep her company during the trip here.
|Escape hatch: This hole at one end of the bee|
carrier comes plugged up with a sugary
substance some call "queen candy" to feed the queen
in transit and which the resident bees also munch on
when it arrives. When the hole is finally
open, the new queen gets out and goes to work.
Félix and Stew checked the hive three days after the queen bee arrived in her little compartment which had been placed in the hive. And just as the how-to books predicted, her new mates had eaten the sugar plug and the queen had been freed. Activity in the hive appeared tranquil, as if the residents were relieved. You don't have to be Marlin Perkins to be fascinated by this tiny episode of the Wild Kingdom.
Once the new queen is released, she'll go about her business of a life of wanton promiscuity and fecundity and create the bees that will make the honey. In addition, by their buzzing around our land from flower to flower collecting pollen, the worker bees will help pollinate plants, including fruit trees.
On Friday, President Obama announced a program to save the bees in the U.S., which are in the midst of a precipitous decline in population called "colony collapse," along with other pollinators like the monarch butterfly. The president said that the bees' pollination work is worth about $15 billion a year in fruit and vegetable production. The number of managed bee colonies, which are essential for the production of some crops such as almonds, has declined from four million in 1970 to 2.5 million today.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture also will lead an effort to determine why bee populations are imploding. Some environmentalists have blamed the use of a certain insecticide that may have the same disastrous impact on bees that DDT had on bald eagles and other large birds, but no one knows for sure yet.
(A few conservative wing-nuts reflexively took to the Tweetersphere to ridicule Obama's announcement as another form of needless big-government meddling. Bee-rack O-bee-mer! Beeghazi! Aw shut up!)
I don't know if the same decline in bee populations is taking place in Mexico. Our beehives seem to be fine. In fact, in the area immediately surrounding us there seems to be little change in the weather either. Temperatures are a bit cooler perhaps but the rainy season seems to have started in earnest, allaying fears that the drought that ravaged southern Texas and northern Mexico could spread down our way. Everything is flowering as usual.
What I'm worried about now are the marketing and pricing angles of Félix's budding cottage industry, which is set to produce another forty-odd pounds of honey in the next few months. There is only so much honey our friends can eat or for which they are willing to pay US$6 a pint. We may have to find some new friends—quickly—or lower our price and incur the wrath of other local honey producers.
Price wars are not pretty.
But such is life in this brutish capitalist world.
UPDATE JULY 10
An article from the Washington Post about colony collapse and bee kill-offs