So That’s What All the Buzz Is About! : Bees of Swarthmore

Bees in general, and specifically honey bees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees, remain a poorly-understood yet vital component of our ecosystem. Over the past few years, I have found myself mesmerized by the process of pollination, especially regarding our tiny winged friends who oftentimes remain hidden in plain sight. When I came to Swarthmore, I became familiar with all of the pollinator hotspots on campus in order to document these lovely creatures. These are the bees of Swarthmore, and these are their stories.


A honey bee nestles its body in a vibrant purple bloom after a rainfall. Here, she searches for nectar to take back to her nest. There, the nectar will be passed down from worker to worker and become honey through a complex process of evaporation. The bees will store the newly-formed honey inside the hive, where they will access it in the case of a food shortage.


A bumblebee precariously balances between two leaves of a Blue Heaven plant. I have noticed since starting my bee photography project that for such hardworking animals, bees love to conserve energy and oftentimes hesitate to fly. In most instances, they crawl wherever they need to go, even jumping from flower to flower should it become necessary.


For such social animals, bees aren’t very amiable to other bees. On multiple occasions, I’ve watched two bees scuffle over the same flower until one conceded and hastily flew away. Just because they don’t seem to enjoy sharing their territory, however, doesn’t mean that bees don’t excel at teamwork — after all, bees as a whole are the primary pollinators of most flowering plants on Earth.


A carpenter bee rests on a tuft of flowers after a light rainfall. This particular carpenter bee, scraggly and fatigued after being trapped in the rain, climbed from flower to flower with an unparalleled level of calculation and effort in her six-legged steps. Carpenter bees have a notorious reputation for their aggression, but this bee did not object when I used a leaf to help her climb to some of the hard-to-reach flowers.

Despite their hardiness and diligence, bees are fragile creatures who face an uncertain future. Colony collapse disorder, a mysterious affliction that occurs when the majority of worker bees leave a queen bee behind, continues to plague western honey bees with no known solution. In the copious time that I have spent with bees, I have never been stung a single time, despite the fact that taking photos requires such close proximity to them. I have simply observed that bees are gentle, remarkably non-confrontational, and above all, absolutely indispensable to our planet. Please be kind to bees.

Anatole Shukla

Anatole Shukla '22 is an Editor Emeritus of The Phoenix. He is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied economics, linguistics, and Russian language while at Swarthmore.

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