Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Night in the Life of a Working Mother

It is spring but you wouldn’t know it judging by the temperature. Here in such northern latitudes, Ellesmere Island to be more precise, winters are long and brutal; spring and summer last no longer than a sigh. So, this morning the air is crisp, and I would call it bitter, as I am not used to this weather. The frost covered grass crunches under your foot with each step you take. However, there are flowers all around. A carpet of small flowers is growing hastily so that the plants can complete their cycle before winter arrives. But, why are there so many flowers? Who visits them and pollinates them? Certainly not honeybees. They can’t endure this climate. Bumblebees! that is who. They are hardy and well prepared for such harsh climate.

Let us look at one in particular, Ms. Bombus, a plump and fuzzy little lady that has been very busy for the past few weeks. She has found an abandoned vole’s nest; has redecorated it inside making it suitable for her coming family. She has prepared several enormous wax pots full of nectar or pollen. They are enormous compared to her size; to us they are nothing but thimblefuls. Then she has laid six little eggs that, by now, have turned into squirmy, hungry babies that she feeds several times a day, alternating with trips in search of more food.

Tonight, she is very concerned. She doesn’t need to watch the weather report on television in order to know that a cold snap is coming, colder than usual, that is. Bumblebees that live in other regions can wait to start a family until the weather is balmier but she doesn’t have that luxury. The growing season is too short so she had to speed things up despite the risk involved. The coming cold could kill her precious babies.

Fortunately she is well prepared to take care of them. She is covered with a thick and fluffy fur all over most of her body. On her belly she has a bare patch that reminds us of the brooding patch that many birds have when they are raising a family. So, just like a mother bird she lays spread eagled on top of her brood and thanks to her thick fur coat she is able to keep them warm for a while. Soon this is not enough because the temperature keeps dropping, so she begins to vibrate her strongest muscles, the flying muscles of her chest. This time she isn’t flying, just generating heat that is transmitted to the babies beneath her. She keeps shivering this way hour after hour, as long as needed. This effort uses up lots of energy and makes her very hungry. With great foresight she had placed her nursery and herself just on front of one of the wax pots brimming with honey, an excellent fuel, and she periodically drinks from it.

The night goes on, grueling and relentless, until finally the sun begins to shine and to warm up the fields. Only then can Ms. Bombus relax and rest, still covering her precious family a little longer. Later on, when it is warm enough, she moves away from the babies and with one final tender look at her wiggly and happy gang she heads for the front door. Bleary eyed and sore muscled, she faces her day job, a full day of gathering badly needed provisions for her brood and for herself.

Bumble bee life cycle

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© Beatriz Moisset. 2012


  1. Wow. Wow to this amazing description and wow to the fact that you live on Ellesmere Island. Are you in Alert, Eureka or Grise Fiord?

  2. Thanks for all the compliments. But, sorry to disappoint you, I don't live in Ellesmere Island. This is just a piece of fiction (although close to non-fiction in most respects).