Video poems by Stephen Humphrey and Sarah Peebles

Stephen Humphrey, video and poetry  |  Sarah Peebles, amplified viewable nest blocks     Wild, solitary-dwelling bees of Toronto create nests, manipulate pollen and hang out in the “Audio Bee Booth” and other amplified habitat structures. Macro video with micro audio!  •• Listen on low volume with headphones while you watch ••

August, 2019

Ode to Working Mothers

They push lucent white globules
into cornerless walls, up and down
tunnels that wind like script.
Parallel labour: burnt ochre through
dappled windows, liquid portholes.

These resin-using leafcutter bees descended from bees that inhabited the reverse, sunny side of this nest plank, which sits within a dark, dry cabinet. It’s been progressively colonized in our Toronto back yard garden since 2017. Grass wasps (Isodontia) and small resin bees from the genus Heriades also used a few of the large and very small tunnels. The resin used by these bees waterproofs and probably also provides antimicrobial protection and microbiome components for their young as they develop. An embedded vibrational sensor allows us to hear the smallest sounds as we watch the action.

Masked bee “Minerva” lines her nest (Hylaeus)

June, 2013 / April, 2020

Ode to Minerva

She is the secret artisan of cellophane.
Her phantom face obscures dark arts
her body is perfected to hide.
She disgorges spun glass and gold
from her stomach’s crucible.

This tiny masked bee is lining her nest with waterproofing secretions that may also provide antimicrobial protection and microbiome components for her young when they emerge the following year. She creates each cell and seals the nest with this cellophane, which she distributes with her uniquely-shaped tongue. We have no idea what the larva-like blob is which appears mid-way! Because of their small size (4-6 mm) and hairless bodies, masked bees in the genus Hylaeus can be mistaken for flies or wasps. Ode to Minerva poetry was commissioned for Sonic Solitaries Sensory Bee Cabinet.

Leafcutter bee “Gracie”  builds a brood cell (Megachile relativa)

August 14, 2010

Ode to Gracie
She buries gold and progeny in little
Mayan cigars. She spins slow circles
to place each bitten green sheet.
Her hind twitches like a frantic leaf.
Serrated jaws quiver, and quiver.

This energetic leafcutter bee (Megachile relativa) fashions oblong strips neatly cut from leaves into a brood cell where she will assemble a ball of pollen and lays a white, peanut-shaped egg. You can see her positioning leaf material like strips of wallpaper and chewing these along their edges with her serrated jaws (mandibles) so they stick better in place. Towards the end of the video she rejects a leaf strip for this brood cell.

“Gracie” cleans house (Megachile relativa)

August 14, 2010

Another Ode to Gracie
She labours upside down, flies
backwards, dances all sections of
a cylinder, unconscious of gravity.
Her black belly sparks yellow hairs,
bright filaments of a two-week life.

I named this bee Gracie because of her strange, skittish, almost ditzy habits. She’d leap from tunnel to tunnel, spin in circles, rub herself against walls, rush in with leaf parts only to reject them afterward. Am I anthropomorphizing? Yes.

“Mary-Jane” builds cell and rolls a pollen ball (Hoplitis spoliata)

June 17, 2010

Ode to Mary-Jane
She fashions living paste into green
walls, her whole body a trowel,
each chamber a jade capsule
to transport orphaned daugthers
to next spring and solitude.

Unlike Gracie, Mary Jane, a single mother from the species Hoplitis spoliata, looks like a total straight-arrow. She makes continuous back-and-forth trips to supply her growing brood. First we see Mary-Jane fashion chewed-up leaves into a bullet-shaped cell. Next we see her rolling pollen into a neat little ball, tamping it with her abdomen. This globe of protein-filled pollen is enough of a meal to take a brand new Hoplitis from larva to full-grown bee.

(No audio for this clip.)

“Olive” and “Olivia” in: A tale of two resin bees (Megachile campanulae)

July 18, 2010

Olivia’s Ode
This one has the sticky work of resin,
sculpting slow teardrops, pushing globules
of dark amber. As sun goes down
she’s still working. Long light seeps
through translucent walls, brown like beer.

Resin-collecting bees are late workers among bee-kind. They labour well past bedtime for most bees building solitary nest cells of sticky resin from nearby plants. This clip features two different bees in front and back of Sarah Peebles’ house. Olive uses  resin that is nearly transparent while Olivia uses dark brown resin the shade of beer bottle glass. Their methods are the same as they create tiny, safe capsules for their offspring to grow in. Full-sized bees will chew their way out the following spring.

“Dexter Greenbody” in: Preening Agapostemon Bee, the Sequel

September 1, 2010

Ode to Dexter
He can’t recognize his own reflection,
but still he knows he’s handsome
as he preens his sleek half-metallic self,
while the females are all
below ground, forgetting him.

Agepostemon viricens is one of the most good-looking bee species, and this male Agepostemon must know it, considering how much time he spends grooming himself. For the second time in Resonating Bodies history a male Agepostemon bee has dropped by one of our habitats to hang out. See last year’s video by Kevin Steele.

About This Bee Block

This little block of wood and plexiglas was a busy place for bees over the summer of 2010. Three upper rows contain the remnants of cells built of dark resin by yet another member of the species Megachile companularum. The row of transparent cells along the bottom row were made by the tiny, almost hairless masked (Hylaeus) bee.

Mary-Jane, the mason bee (Hoplitis) also made an appearance. She built a single cell of masticated, or chewed, leaves. Her intention, it seems, was to block the emerging masked bee brood from getting out the following year (she was successful, sadly).

Resonating Bodies - Hylaeus Block Spring 2011

Masked bee block Spring, 2011 (above). We can see that this block looks mostly the same as it did in the Fall, except that the very small masked bees (genus Hylaeus) in the bottom tunnel have transformed from white larva to white pupa. With a magnifying lens we can see that they look exactly as adult bees, but opaque (select image to enlarge). You can see a photo of some emerging from a bamboo stake at Bee Biodiversity.

We carefully poked a hole through Mary-Jane’s cell blocking the masked bees, above. Sadly, only about 3 of them emerged – the other 5 were found dead in the tunnel. A victory for Mary-Jane?

2010-2011 videos were created in co-ordination with the Toronto Zoo, CANPOLIN, and PCYU – Packer Lab – York University.  Some of the above videos were made at The Audio Bee Booth prototype, hosted by the Toronto Zoo Education Branch, Summer 2010. 2013/2020 video created in co-ordination with The Stop Community Food Centre.

Technical assistance provided by Robert Cruickshank, bee nesting audio electronics; John Kuisma, nest plank fabrication; Patrick Ellard, prototype Audio Bee Booth fabrication; Dafydd Hughes, noise reduction.

Read more about Bee Biodiversity, Amplified Habitat Installations, how to build your own Solitary Dream Home for wild bees here. Contents at the side bar to the right.

Related videos are posted at the Resonating Bodies YouTube channel and on Vimeo.

Thank you: CANPOLIN | Packer Lab |Toronto Zoo  | The Stop Community Food Centre at Artscape Wychwood Barns.  Stephen Humphrey thanks the Ontario Arts Council and Chalmers Foundation for their generous support.