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Today’s post is a spotlight on Warrior Mom from Bangalore, Rajani Mani. Rajani is currently making a film on bees — we caught up with her today for a little chat. Read on and check out the links to her work too.

Why bees?

I live in Bangalore where, between the months of October to March, rock bees (A. dorsata, a variety of wild honeybee) make hives in locations all over the city. Often they choose high rise buildings, and this brings them into conflict with humans. My apartment was no different and when I moved in here, there were many empty apartments and bees were used to nesting here. The residents would panic and call pest management whose solution was to spray pesticides, and we would literally see a bloodbath of dead bees all over the roads and below the apartments. It was horrendous! Things were so out of hand that the bees were even being called “killer bees”!! Though clearly the killers were someone else.

Being an animal lover there was only so much I could tolerate and I started talking to my neighbours about not removing hives in this manner. I also started reading up about Rockbees in order to understand their behaviour and movement. I met scientists and bee keepers to deepen my understanding, and the more I learnt the more fascinated I was about the world of wild bees.

Tell us something interesting you have observed in your interactions with bees?

I will tell you something interesting that I learnt first — we have 750 species on native bees in India, representing six families of bees. Of this social bees (honey bees) we have 5 species, and the rest are solitary bee species. They come in all sizes, as large as a 1 rupee coin and as small as a grain of rice. They come in many colours as well (not just yellow and black), you can find bees that are blue, black, red, yellow, green, verdigris and even iridescent. Solitary bees also nest in all sorts of places like soil, wall crevices, deadwood etc. On the other hand, honeybees are social creatures and live together in hives.

Of the five species of honeybees found in India, four species (A. dorsata, A. laboriosa, A. andreniformis, and A. florea) are open nesting, and only 1 species A. cerana is a closed nesting honeybee that you will find inside tree hollows, mountain crevices, but now Indian beekeepers are also using cerana bees in bee box for honey production. So we have a huge assortment of bees and our lifestyle, our agriculture, our land use all affect these insects one way or another.

Today the world has already lost 75% of our insect biomass, if we say that out of 1000 people, we lost 750 people to a calamity, that would be enough to set our alarm bells ringing and we will panic. And that is exactly the state of our insect species. And of these bees, all species of bees, are very important pollinators.

Now coming to observation, let me shine the spotlight on social bees — honeybees. Honeybees are individuals who are the epitome of collective behavior. The bee hive is like a single superorganism, and takes critical decision like migrations together in a democratic manner (swarm intelligence). There is much we can learn from them, in fact much is written about the 5 habits of an effective group that is taken from honeybee behaviour in a bee hive.

Has anyone changed their mind about bees after you started your work?

Yes a lot of my neighbours and friends have started paying attention to native bees. There are people like who have learned to live with dorsata beehive during nectar flow season. Many people also contact me from all over Bangalore mainly to connect with a fellow bee crusader and to get information that they can then share in their community where bees are under attack.

Each time I get a whatsapp message or a photo showing an empty bee hive where the bees have migrated after having completed an entire cycle it fills me with a sense of joy that we could save that one hive this time, and maybe next time we can save more hives.

How can we live with urban bees?

Talking about the Rockbees, they like large canopied trees and rock faces, they are facing loss of habitat as cities are expanding. So they are attracted to apartment buildings because these are like artificial rocks, this along with well tended gardens of urban settlements, are all very attractive to the bees. If there is a rockbee hive on a person’s balcony, first of all, do not panic. A large % of these bees are born in the city and migrate within the city, they can comprehend the ways of humans. Rockbees are crepuscular, they forage at dawn and dusk as well, so artificial lights of the home attracts them inside at night and people are then scared for their own safety. So the most logical thing to do is close your mesh doors by 4:30pm and draw a heavy curtain, this will prevent bees from coming inside your home at night.

If you don’t need to use that balcony, then let the bees complete their 3.5 month season and they will migrate on their own.

Next, bees are not stinging machines, they will sting only if there is a direct threat to the hive. So if you avoid the hive you don’t have to worry. If the bees have made a hive once on your balcony, by their complex calculation regarding forage, water and safety, that location is the best one for them. They leave behind their pheromones and they will be back the next season. Dorsata bees / Rockbees have what is called “site fidelity”.

If you don’t want the hive to return, scrape off the old beehive after the bees have left and spray something strong to mask the scent of pheromones. Hang a couple of dreamcatchers on the balcony that disturbs the bees and prevents them from building the hive there.

If a bee hive is forming, early on you will notice bees coming around for a recce. At that stage there will be about a 100–200 bees festooning on the area, light a herbal agarbatti/incense stick for a day or two, the smoke will be a deterrent and the bees will leave thinking the area to be unsuitable.

If a hive is already in place, then light the incense and repeat for 3 days. The Queen will stop laying eggs sensing the disturbance and the hive will collectively decide to leave, but not before the entire brood emerges. So they will then leave after 15 days. This technique is the most sustainable method but requires patient consideration.

Care for the bees, they provide unnoticed ecosystem services like pollination. While food and nutritional security is often what we focus on, the fact is that 80% of our wild plants are pollinated by wild bees. Forests in turn provide habitat to our biodiversity, they are important for climate resilience and carbon sequestration, and is the source of portable water.

How can we care for bees?

Read up more about bees, what kinds there are, make it a fun exercise to go bee watching. Keep a shallow water filled saucer filled with pebbles outside on your balcony or garden for bees to hydrate themselves. Don’t paint over or throw away dead wood from your garden, they provide habitat for a host of tiny insects including wild bees — you can be a proud “bee hotel owner”!

Leave patches of wild flowering weeds, bees love wild flowers like clover, and touch me nots!

How does air pollution affect bees?

Air Pollution affects the seasonal activities of wild bees. Pollutants in the air mask floral scents, this makes it difficult for wild bees to forage, making them ineffective pollinators. Researchers have found that air pollution made bees sluggish and live shorter lives. Crop plants account for less than 0.1 percent of all flowering species, yet 85 percent of flowering plants are pollinated by bees and other species, if pollination activity of bees is hampered then in the future it poses a grave threat to our nutritional security.

Link to trailerhttps://youtu.be/cXEaPE7O_J8

Instagram and Facebook: @coloniesinconflict


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