Thursday, May 25, 2006

Buzz off, lady

24 May 2006

I’m now in Ciudad de Panamá, where I’ll spend the next two weeks sorting insects, exchanging notes on molecular work with our collaborating lab, and, with luck, planning both some field trips and some recreational exploration. My week on BCI has caught up with me much more effectively than I’ve caught up with it; that is, I did more physical labor on the island than I’ve probably done in any previous single week of my life, and my body is now attempting to shut itself down for repairs. This will be a very early night.

Two notable things today. One is that my low capacity for spatial navigation, combined with fatigue, caused me to take a wrong turn out of the winding lot of the dorm and spend a frustrating twenty minutes trying to navigate myself to the lab (it’s supposed to be a ten-minute walk). Fortunately, that was the turn that got me lost in a nice neighborhood instead of a dicey one, and I was able to communicate well enough in my primitive Spanish to a local resident for him to hail me a cab with a friendly driver. (The driver had a cuddly stuffed toy spider hanging from his rearview, and when I smiled and said “¡Me gustan las arañas!” it not only broke the ice, but clarified that I must be going to the Smithsonian lab, where I arrived only fifteen minutes late.)

The second notable thing happened in the outdoor courtyard of the STRI cafeteria, where I had lunch with my faculty host. The heat has knocked back my appetite a bit, and I was picking at my salad plate when a honey bee suddenly landed on my tray and began licking the inside of my espresso cup. I expressed my surprise that a bee would go for a sugar source that was so heavily caffeinated, and Don said, offhandedly, “That’s a killer bee.”

“Did you say ‘killer bee’?”

“Yes, all the honey bees here are Africanized now.”

A second bee had arrived and began to inspect the pineapple chunks in my salad plate. Both bees then started to buzz around my head.

“Don, what would you suggest I do?”

“Just ignore them. And don’t ingest them.”

One of the bees started to crawl on my hand, about an inch below the spot where two Parachartergus wasps had stung me a couple of nights back.

“Oh, and don’t crush any. The nest is probably in that tree over there.”

Both bees returned to my coffee cup and resumed sipping. I figured that I’d better observe Don’s second safety rule and eat the salad before they returned. By the time I was done, the bees had become sufficiently bored with my coffee to circle my head twice more and leave.

And, yes, I did drink the coffee afterwards. First of all, I needed the caffeine. And, second, the day I become too squeamish to share an espresso with two killer bees is the day I hang it up and return to a career in computer support.

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