Water Bees, Toes

Dear Matthew Alice:

Are bees suicidal? I swim in an outdoor pool, and practically every time there is a poor bee straining to stay afloat. I offer it a lifesaver (a twig or a leaf) and quickly put the insect on the cement. And sure enough, when I return from my lap, it’s back in the water. Well, I guess insects have no concept of death. Are they temperature sensitive? It gets pretty hot here in Escondido.

— Name withheld, Escondido

Bees have no death wish, in spite of what you might think from the behavior of your persistent little drowners. But they do have a strong instinct to forage for water, and they’ll take whatever they can find, from a mud puddle to a pristine pool.

You and bee are a bit alike. You get hot, you take a dip. The hive gets hot, and certain bees instinctively buzz out to gather water. They bring it back and it’s spread around the hive, especially into the honeycomb cells containing eggs and larvae. They fan the air with their wings, turning the hive into a sweet, waxy swamp cooler. The hive also needs to maintain a certain humidity level (higher than the outside air when it’s hot), so water foraging can solve this problem. Water is also a necessity for feeding the developing bees. Foragers will buzz out to gather water if the nectar brought into the hive recently has been low in water content.

Obviously bees need water for lots of things, but they don’t store any in the hive. This keeps water foragers pretty busy. And because bees don’t forage at night, early morning is a good time to find them in your pool. So is the hottest part of the afternoon. All things considered, you’re very likely to bump into a bee as you grind out your laps. Maybe when you rescue your little friend, you can put a tiny water dish next to him so he won’t follow his water-driven instinct and dive to his death again and again.

Hey, Matt:

Why do people have toes? Why do toes have toenails? Who invented pedicures? COULD you dance BALLET if you had NO TOES? Does the size of one’s toes correlate to any other significant physical or mental characteristic? I suppose nobody could “toe the line” without toes.

— GREG DUCH, San Diego

This toe thing has you all in a dither, eh, Greg? Naturally, we can undither you since that’s our mission statement — to undither the population and create peace and clear thinking for all people. The elves and I take that oath every morning, right after we brush our teeth and before we raise the big flag in the front yard.

We have toes because our earliest ancestor primates, tree dwellers, had toes. They had big, long toes so they had an additional set of appendages with which to grab tree limbs. Nowadays, we can pick up things we drop — pens or stuff that’s rolled way under a table — using our toes, thanks to our primate ancestors. But somewhere along the line, flat ground started looking pretty good, and some primates abandoned trees. With no limbs (or pens) to grasp, through evolution their toes shrank and turned into super-valuable devices for running. They added extra leverage so proto-man could evade that big furry thing chasing him or catch up to that small furry thing that looked good to eat. Our big toe is a big toe because it’s the last one to push off the ground, so it needs to be bigger. And stronger. It later became the piggie that was lucky enough to go to market, compared to the ones that stayed home and cried wee-wee-wee.

Toenails protect our toes. Obviously, toe shoes and toe dancers would be useless without toes. And toes indicate nothing about your character, intelligence, or fertility.

Pedicures go back four centuries, to Turkey or Egypt. The uppity classes put gold and rouge on their nails as another signal that they didn’t work for a living. But that’s nothing compared to what we’ve come up with these days. How about a fish pedicure? It’s true. It’s real. Stick your tootsies in a pan of water containing a particular type of carp and let the fishies eat all your dead foot skin. No need to cut or buff it off. I’m not kidding. It’s a true thing. It’s the newest pedicure thing. It’s a revolting thing.

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NW of Escondido, thanks for asking that question about bees. I've had similar experiences when swimming in a pool out here in El Cajon.

Matthew, I like your suggestion to put a tiny dish of water by the rescued bee. Very compassionate! I'll try that next time.

StringerSteve: The elves are nothing if not compassionate. They take in strays, they feed the foodless, they knit socks for the sockless. And I'm sure everyone has had the experience of bumping faces with a bee while swimming in a pool. Bee instinct is very strong. -- Matthew Alice

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