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In Praise of Bees and Ugga-Bugga Blossoms

June 16, 2011

Passiflora photo by Warren Krupsaw

My email has been abuzz recently with notes between me and accomplished nature photographer Warren Krupsaw. I’m pleased to share some of Warren’s photos here. They speak for themselves far more eloquently than any praise I can heap on them. I encourage you to check out both the photos here and the links below. Warren’s nature photos are simply stunning.

Warren, who was a student – and also a houseguest – of Ansel Adams, suddenly appeared in my life via the magic of the internet. (Yes, it’s absolutely amazing who I have met through my website, blog and other online presences.)

Warren and I share an interest in passion vines. I have planted and painted them, and he has photographed them extensively.

Bumblebee drinking. Photo by Warren Krupsaw.

Warren’s first note to me arrived out of the blue. He complimented me on one of my paintings and let me know that he too is interested in bees:

“I’m not much on honeybees (much more a bumblebee kind of guy), but after seeing your Passion of the Honeybee, along with your rendering of a passion flower, it occurred to me that you might be interested in checking out my passion flower gallery (as well as my ‘pet’ bumblebee in ‘Selected Animals’).”

My comment to Warren after seeing this photo of a bee perched upon his thumb: “Hats off to you for getting this photo – not to mention the one with the hornet! If a bee was perched on my thumb, I would be trembling so hard I would be wholly unable to hold a camera, much less snap a photo.”

Horny the Hornet, another of Warren's "friends"

Turns out that Warren has a secret trick when it comes to dealing with stinging insects.

The story is fascinating, so I am going to reproduce “Buzzy #423 or The Plight of the Bumblebee” here exactly as he wrote it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The Plight of the Bumblebee

“It may not have actually been 423, but certainly after almost a half century, there have been a lot of bumblebees I’ve operated on. Naming each and every one of them “Buzzy” seemed the simplest way to go (only confusing when you kept more than one at a time).

Passion flower photo by Warren Krupsaw. Formally called “passiflora,” these flowers are idiosyncratically unique in the world of flora. The complexity of their structure led to them being named “passion flowers” in honor of the passion of Christ. The ten petals of the flower are supposed to represent the ten apostles in Christianity (excluding St. Peter and Judas).

“As the inventor (originator) of the ‘Stingerectomy’ (or more precisely ‘Stingerotomy’), here’s how it began:  When I was a junior in high school biology class (1960), one of our assignments was to make an insect collection:  capturing, mounting, and identifying butterflies, and other insects on stick pins. I noticed that the gas caused all kinds of muscle contractions in the insects upon being placed in the killing jar.

“In the case of wasps, bees and hornets this included their stingers which would stay out longer and longer as they approached unconsciousness (and death).  In those days one of the commonly available gassing solvents was something used in the dry cleaning business, carbon tetrachloride (‘carbon tet’), no longer used. 

“Now I use diethyl ether (only available by prescription). At some point, the light dawned and it occurred to me: Why not clip off the sharp end? Maybe, given enough fresh air, they’d revive. After some experimentation on how long to leave them in the jar, low and behold, I discovered that they did survive!  And if the gas exposure was just right, there was also enough time to tie a thread around their ‘waist’ (pedicel).

Warren's photo of Passiflora Silvie - or what I call an "Ugga-Bugga blossom." I think that both passiflora and protea look like they must be the descendants of dinosaur salad. The name Ugga-Bugga Blossoms, by the way, was coined by my friend and former colleague, graphic designer Paul Curtin, one of the founders of Eleven Design in San Francisco.

“Now I had a bumblebee on a ‘leash’ and by attaching a small safety pin to the loose end, I could wear it on my shirt. As you might expect, these became a big hit with my fellow male students (great for scaring girls). I did a brisk business selling them for 25 cents each — a fair sum in those days.

“Most of the bees learned to drink a sugar-water solution through an eye-dropper and a few survived as long as three weeks. It was fascinating to be able to handle them safely without fear of being stung and to study them up  close: they cleaned themselves practically like cats, their buzzing became slower as ‘bedtime’ approached, you could fly them like a kite, etc.

“Some of the larger ones became especially tame after a while and didn’t seem to mind being handled. A few of the more enterprising ones chewed through their tethers and freed themselves. Each one was different.

“Along the way, I learned which flowers attracted them, and by holding a jar in one hand and the lid in my other, I became proficient in catching them.  Sometimes, the occasional bee would find its way into my house on its own — down the chimney I presume.

“Of course, as the objective science kid, I also operated on wasps and hornets. (Honeybees were just too small and delicate). But their ‘personalities’ were quite different. They were much more flighty and aggressive, besides being more ‘intelligent’ as evidenced by their freeing themselves with more regularity.

Passiflora incense, photo by Warren Krupsaw.

“So recently, when I heard that characteristic buzzing sound (another chimney visitor) I looked around and sure enough, there was a good-sized bumblebee knocking against our sliding glass door.

“Having a jar at the ready, I quickly captured my next pet-to-’bee’ and prepared for surgery. Buzzy #423 seemed OK, but the first night was off his feed.

“By the next day however, Buzzy’s appetite was back and he consumed one whole drop! Normally, when not ‘wearing’ a bee, I keep them pinned to a curtain.

“The day after that, Buzzy was up to two drops. Things were looking good and I had big plans for showing Buzzy off and then letting him go (cutting the leash next to his body). But on Day Three, when I went to check, Buzzy #423 was gone! Apparently, with not much else to do, he had wised-up and freed himself. I looked all around, but couldn’t find him.

“I came to the unhappy conclusion that he could have flown virtually anywhere in the house.

Blue Bouquet passiflora, photo by Warren Krupsaw

“In an attempt to distract myself from this sad state of affairs, I settled into the couch for a good read. A couple hours later,there was that sound again. Buzzy!  There he was, amidst our house plants.

“Without too much of a struggle, I captured him by hand. Sure enough, he was still wearing his ‘belt.’  Normally, I would have used a jar, but I was pretty sure it was Buzzy.  (Actually there is one type of bumblebee that can be caught by hand; the yellow-spot-on-its face drone has no stinger.)

“Not wanting to knock him out again to re-attach a leash, I decided he had ‘served his time.’ I told him what a good and clever bee he was, opened the door (and my hand), and off he flew with an amazing tale to tell. 

Tree frog, photo by Warren Krupsaw

“Good bye and fly high!”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

A Bit More About Warren Krupsaw

Nature photographer Warren Krupsaw was a one-time student (and house guest) of Ansel Adams. He earned his M.F.A. in photography under Harry Callahan at the Rhode Island school of Design and was  also one of the first students in the graduate photography program at MIT with Minor White.

Warren has exhibited his work at numerous venues including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Academy of Sciences, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and New York City’s Underground Gallery.

This is the painting that prompted Warren to contact me. It's called "Passion of the Honeybee." I painted this after filling my garden with plants that honeybees enjoy - passiflora among them - to help provide diversity for the bees' diet. I had been reading about colony collapse, and I'm still worried. (I'm now reading that cellphone signals are damaging our winged friends - and that's scary. We depend our bees to pollenate our food crops.)

His photographs have been published in several books including On the Ice, Investigating the Earth and the Polaroid Book. His work has appeared in  Smithsonian, Popular Photography, Modern Photography, Camera, Mineral Digest and Garden Design.

Living in Comfort and Joy is honored to be able to reprise some of Warren’s photos here.

Topical Links

Warren’s Links

3 comments

  1. If this story is true, it’s awful. I can’t understand why anyone would want to do such a cruel thing to a vulnerable little bee.


  2. what a perfect timing with THIS post:
    http://noevalleysf.blogspot.com/2011/06/found-beehive.html


  3. I loved the photos, the painting, and even the story about the bumblebees, hornets etc. I have grown passion flower vines in my backyard over the years, and I’m delighted to see those magnificent pictures of those beautiful flowers.
    Eventually, all my vines were eaten up by caterpilars. And not being a photographer, I gave up growing passion flower vines. They do attract beautiful butterflies too….after the caterpillar larva hatches.

    Louise June 17 at 5:19PM



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