“There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, / Lull’d in these flowers”

Now that late summer is upon us, bumblebee nests are full of worker bees. These bumble-workers often stay out in the field at night, sleeping in flowers. I found this bee in a dewy Yellow Cosmos bloom. She was completely still, paralyzed by the cool morning temperatures.

Like mammals and birds, bumblebees are endothermic, meaning that they warm themselves from internal heat sources. Bumblebees do this by shivering their flight muscles as they wake in the morning. Until they reach running temperature, they are sluggish and can barely move a leg, let alone fly.

In the arctic, some bumblebees use their bodies’ heat to incubate eggs and young bees, just like a mother bird. Without a boost of maternal muscle-heat, the bees would not have enough time to complete their life cycle during the short arctic summer. This endothermic physiology explains why bumblebees, especially northern bumblebees, are furry: like birds (feathers) and mammals (hair), they have a layer of insulation to retain hard-won heat.

Our local bees’ nightly cold stupor saves energy. But immobility is is a dangerous habit, especially for footloose bees who like to sleep outside of the nest in exposed flowers. Yesterday, I watched a European hornet patrolling the profuse blossoms on a clematis vine. Every time it came across a bee or fly, the hornet lunged, trying to grab the victim.

Look sharp, little bee. An evil Puck is after your life.

12 thoughts on ““There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, / Lull’d in these flowers”

  1. Robley Hood

    I see bees sleeping in flowers all the time, and I freely admit that I find something sweet about the sleepers. (Dorky, I admit.) Here’s something I don’t know: how did you know it’s a female?

    Reply
    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Yes, bees sleeping in flowers are so sweet.

      All the workers are females — daughters of the queen who founded the colony in the spring. Males (drones) are made late in summer and all they do is mate. Same is true in honey bees. If it were not for the need for sexual reproduction (to keep genetic variability up), males would not be needed. The same is true in all other sexual species.

      Reply
        1. David George Haskell Post author

          Great article. The situation is even worse in bees: male bees don’t even provide any entertainment…

          On a more serious note, I like the pithy statement: “poverty is what hurts children, not the number or gender of parents”

          Reply
  2. Country Mouse

    I don’t find bees on our flowers, but I do find them in the swimming pool. I lift them out – on a net – and very often they revive. Then very often they fly right back into the pool again! I don’t know if it’s just random or if something attracts them to the pool.

    Reply
  3. Robley Hood

    Thanks, David. I never knew this about bees, and I was even raised by a father with hives (the kind with bees in them). I shall say “she” from now on!

    Reply
  4. john rockwell

    Dear Professor Haskell,

    I’ve appreciated your wonderful book and rambling.

    I just realized today that I was missing reading your ramble posts.

    Below is the last one I received, but your web site shows posts were sent out on August 30th and September 3rd.

    I seemed to have dropped off your mailing list.

    Please be sure to include me in future ramblings.

    Best wishes on a rainy day in Nova Scotia,

    John Rockwell

    Reply
    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Dear John,

      I’m very pleased to hear that you’ve been enjoying both my rambling and my (hopefully more coherent) book. I’m sorry that your email subscription has experienced some problems. Unfortunately, I cannot manage the email list — wordpress will not even allow me to see the email addresses, names, or other identifying information of my subscribers. Quite why, I have no idea. So I suggest re-entering your email address in the subscription box. You might also check your spam filter in case I used words that caused the email to be culled into a spam box.

      Nova Scotia — fabulously beautiful! Please enjoy some fresh fish on my behalf. Landlocked Tennessee is deficient in salty seafood…!

      With my best wishes, David

      Reply

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