Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When life gives you bees, eat honey!

There are many benefits associated with working with the largest social insect research group in the country if not the world such as having an endless supply of colleagues and friends ready to “nerd out” over an insect or other invertebrate at any time during the day. There’s also no shortage of people willing to go on a night hike at a moment’s notice to look for scorpions, beetles, ants, and any other critter we happen upon during the adventure. Yes we still get excited about macrofauna such a bears, coyotes, and great horned owls when we see them, but you’ll notice that many of us will have our head lamps on with our eyes on the ground (this posture also helps avoid unwanted rattlesnake encounters). Needless to say, Ted and I love it here! Ted even got close enough to a bark scorpion to photograph it during our most recent nocturnal adventure with my mom and grandma.

I recently discovered a perk of working with a large group of social insect researchers that I hadn’t anticipated. If you visit our building at ASU you’ll have the opportunity to see many species of ants, some cockroach, giant beetles, and other random invertebrates that show up from time to time. We also have a lovely balcony on our floor that is reserved for a couple of honey bee colonies. These honey bees are used for research on the floor and can often be found inside of the building trying to get back out. They also contain colored number tags on the dorsal side of the thorax, which can be amusing for students who come upon expired marked bees when unlocking their bikes from the bike rack bellow the balcony. I enjoy watching the bees, but my interaction with them normally ends there especially after my failed attempt to rescue a worker that found her way inside. The rescue attempt took a turn for the worst when she stung me resulting in her demise Contrary to what you may be thinking, I didn’t hurt her. Honey bees die when they lose their sting. However, I recently had a new interaction with the bees. Well, it was actually an interaction with their honey!

I arrived at work recently to find a 5 gallon bucket sitting on the sink in the break room. I assumed that someone was getting some water and left their research supplies there, which isn’t uncommon. I was quickly set straight by a friend of mine that works with our building bee colonies. The colonies had recently had their honey harvested and it was up for grabs, and so I along with many of my colleagues partook in native raw honey. Because the honey was a surprise, a scramble for containers to put it in ensued. I decided on my travel coffee mug, but others used tupperware and empty coffee containers. When collecting the honey from the bucket, you lift a hinged lever at the bottom of the bucket and let it flow out while the impurities rise to the top of the bucket. The result of this adventure was local honey that tastes fantastic although quite different from honey you buy in the store. It’s less sweet and is reminiscent of agave nectar while being thinner making it flow easily. All in all, it’s a pretty good perk of the job!

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