T H E
A F R I C A N Q U E E N S
Several facts concerning the incident near Maryville, New York,
need to be underscored.
The day was unusually warm for late September.
Asters, goldenrod and other late-blooming flowers grew in
There were picnickers -- a family named Peterson -- whose
provisions included sugar in various forms; as it turned out,
too much sugar for their own good.
Taking full advantage of the weather, wild bees were
frantically gathering nectar and pollen before winter descended
and shut off their supply until spring.
Leaving their car on the road, the Petersons struggled
with their picnic things through the woods: Bill, stout and
genial; Mary, small and wiry; the children, Karen, twelve, Tim,
ten, Randy, six -- all blond and big for their ages. The family
discovered they had the spot to themselves. A copse of soft
maples, alders and willows opened into a grassy clearing that
ended at a small stream. Birds babbled and insects strummed.
The children played, and Bill, sprawled in a camp chair,
listened to a ball game on the radio. Mary, who wanted the sun,
undid the top buttons of her bloused and smeared herself with
sweet-smelling skin lotion. Her skin was pale. All summer long
the meteorological pattern had been the same: hot and sunny on
weekdays, rainy on weekends -- marvelous for things that grow,
but terrible for people.
When lunchtime came, Bill stretched a tarp on the grass
and set up the card table. They had been in a hurry to leave
and Mary let them throw what they liked into the picnic box.
She frowned at the nutritional catastrophe that had been
assembled. Hamburgers, hot dogs, buns, condiments, leftover
pizza, potato chips, pretzels, cheese wafers, Slim Jims,
macaroni salad, powdered doughnuts, marshmallows, Crackerjack,
nuts candy, Oreos, Fig Newtons, cupcakes, soft drinks...
Someone had built a crude fireplace with rocks. Bill
shook in charcoal, squirted a runnel of fluid and lit a match.
White smoke rose straight up. Karen and Tim were throwing the
ball just over little Randy's head, but soon the kids arrived at
the table with their mouths open, like young birds. Always the
greediest, Karen grabbed the potato chips, attacked the
cellophane package with her teeth and inserted grubby fingers.
Mary yanked the bag away, but the situation was already out of
hand. Tim had ripped the top from the Crackerjack box and Randy
had expertly torn the tab from a can of Coke. "You kids,"
sighed Mary. "I give up."
"Can I have some honey, Mother?" Karen asked. "Honey is
good for you. It gives you energy." The question was a
formality. Without waiting for an answer she smeared butter on
a bun and held the jar upside down until honey gushed tawnily.
"Troops won't wait, Bill," Mary called. "My, it is buggy
today." She took the aerosol can and shot a warning burst of
insecticide at the bushes.
When the coals glowed under mantles of white ash, Bill put
the bright red patties stippled with fat on the grill, pressing
each with his spatula. He ordered a phalanx of franks. Around
the edges of the grill he laid the pale faces of the buns.
Holding a beer, he sat on his haunches and watched the falling
fat erupt into tiny flames.
He had just turned the burgers when Karen discovered the
bee. She had forgotten to put the lid on the jar and when she
clapped it down the bee was a prisoner on the glass wall. "I
caught a bee!"
Tim ran up. "That's a big bee." It was the size of a
large marble, black with rows of tufted orange hair on its rear
section. "Maybe it's a bumblebee."
"It's a honeybee," Karen said firmly. "We had a beehive
in a glass box at school." She showed the bee to her mother.
Mary stared at it apprehensively. She didn't know much
about bees, but it looked enormous to her. "Maybe it's a queen."
"Queen bees don't just fly around, Mother," Karen said.
"They only fly to mate."
Randy wanted to inspect the bee too. He snatched the jar
from karen's hands and ran a few steps with it. The bee came to
life. From inside the jar it made a startlingly loud noise,
almost like a growl, high-pitched and sharp as a sting.
Zeeeeeeeee. Ziiiiiiiii. The buzz frightened Randy who let the
jar slip from his fingers. It shattered on a log and the bee
escaped. Furious, crying, Randy began to kick the log.
"Stay away from the glass," Bill ordered. "We'll clean up
later. Chow's on."
The parents sat in their camp chairs while the kids
sprawled on the tarp, holding up their plastic plates and
styrofoam cups for more. They had reached the ice cream-cookie-
marshmallow stage when Tim noticed a dozen bees congregated
around the shards of the honey jar. More bees prowled around
the little pile of rubbish the kids had thrown on the grass near
the tarp. Every now and then a bee rose in the air and flew
like a dart toward the trees. Bravely, Tim tried to shoo the
bees away, but they buzzed queerly and gave no ground.
Bees circled over the table too, hovering over the
powdered doughnuts and Fig Newtons, retreating, returning,
coming ever closer.
"I don't like these bees," Mary said. She stood up, took
her magazine and sat on the grass by the stream, determined to
enjoy the day. Bill moved his chair and radio away from the
table, while the children threw a Frisbee.
Mary looked up and saw that her youngest child was
scurrying toward her, jerking his head and arms in an unnatural
way. He cried, "A bee is chasing me!"
Mary got up quickly and went to him. "They're just bees,
Randy. They won't hurt you if you don't hurt them," she said.
The boy threw his convulsively against her stomach while, inches
away, a bee zoomed by, screaming like a tiny jet fighter.
Following it with her eyes, she saw that the table was
crowded with bees running over the food with stiff legs. Mary
inched closer. "They're into everything," she whispered.
"Those are just not natural bees."
At her side Karen said in a small voice, "I thought bees
ate only pollen and nectar. Those bees are pigs, just like us
"I don't get it," Mary said, watching the bees crawl on
the sweet things, seeming even to scrape at the styrofoam cups
in their hunger. She dared to snatch the insecticide can from
the table, jabbed the button and held it down until her thumb
was white from pressure. "Go away! Go away!" she yelled.
The bees appeared to go crazy. They rose and fell,
swirled in the air, rolled in bunches on the ground. A few bees
hurled themselves into the white-hot charcoal, exploding like
little shells. Above, the bee cloud grew. With its angry
fringes and turbulent center, it looked like a miniature storm.
Hunched over the radio as he listened to an important
play, Bill was oblivious to everything. "Goddamit, Daddy," Mary
said sharply, "turn off the radio. Let's get out of here."
Bill switched off the radio. When he did, it became
apparent that the radio, instead of causing, had only masked the
true source of the noise in the clearing. A roar like a chain
saw rose from the bushes, the trees the very ground. The
Petersons raised shocked faces -- the sky was black with bees.
"Leave the picnic things," Mary shrieked. "Children,
Randy raced for the car, while Tim headed for the stream.
Karen screamed, "A bee's in my hair!" and with frantic gestures
tried to pull it out. She screamed again. As if she had been
touched by fire, a sharp weal rose abruptly on her neck. The
sound in the clearing changed, almost resembling a deep organ
note. Zuuuuuuuuuummmmm. Bees swooped from the sky. Bill's
hand shot to his arm, then to his shoulder. He dropped the
Mary was running toward them, but wavered and stopped,
confused by the whirling shadows and hideous sound.
ZUUUUUUUUUMMMMM. Bees brushed all over her, on her arms, down
her cleavage, even flying under her skirt. Desperately she
tried to brush them away, but a hundred lances seemed to punch
everywhere into her body. Her eyelids puffed and her nostrils
began to close. A strange aching filled her chest and breath
came hard. She opened her mouth to scream but received on her
tongue a swap of pain. As she fell, she asked herself what
would become of the children.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMY
On Monday the warm weather continued down the eastern seaboard.
It was 70 degrees by 8 a.m., according to the radio. Dr. John
Wood decided to bike to work.
Over breakfast Wood had a characteristic debate with
himself. His companion of the night before, a pert young woman,
had departed earlier while he slept. She was the latest in a
long series of women who had given up on Wood. They liked him
well enough -- too much, it seemed: the trouble had to do with
the time he had for them -- namely little. Between women and
work Wood always chose the latter, neglecting the former, whose
reactions were then predictable. "Must learn to relax and play
more," Wood told himself for the n th time. Then, as usual, the
day swallowed him up.
In Wood's scientific circles there was nothing unusual in
the fact that his bike, a three-hundred-dollar Peugeot with ten
gears and centerfold brakes, was worth as much as his car, an
old VW. After parking the bicycle in the garage he climbed the
stairs to the Great Hall with its green-bronze portals decorated
with the signs of the zodiac, pillars of green Italian marble,
elaborately domed ceiling, and the painting of "Prometheus
Bound" on the far wall. Wanting a tempt to the Great God
Science, they had built one. The National Academy of Sciences
was the sort of place that called a courtyard an arboretum and
the cafeteria a refectory.
The temple was implacably,
irretrievably sedate. Sometimes Wood wishes it provided a bit
As usual, The Washington Post stared from his desk, where
the divisional secretary left it each morning. Wood stared back
at it with something nearing real dislike. He had a theory that
newspapers were owned by pharmaceutical companies and printed
expressly to increase the sales of tranquilizers. The trouble
was that the papers got people stirred up about all the wrong
things, ignoring the ones that mattered. Wood always put off
reading the paper as long as he could, and sometimes happily
forgot to read it at all. Today, with fifteen minutes yawning
before his Monday meeting with Hubbard, he had no excuse.
He was an inveterate reader of the colorful filler items
at the bottoms of pagers which often interested him more than
the major: "Sea Lion Gives Birth to Quints"; "Femme-Lib Wife
Jails Hubby on Alimony Rap". His eyes stopped at a small
FAMILY ATTACKED BY BEES — TWO KILLED
MARYVILLE, N.Y., Sept.26 (AP) — A family of five on an outing in
an isolated spot by a stream were attacked by bees here.
Mr. and Mrs. William Peterson died as the result of bee
bites. Their three children were also attacked, one, Karen, age
The local coroner, Dr. David P. Szac, speculated that both
adults had allergies to bee bites, which can be fatal. About 30
deaths a year in the U.S. are attributed to bites from bees,
wasps and hornets.
What caused the bees to attack is not known.
Wood's characteristic reaction to information that trouble
him was to back away from it temporarily and give his intuition
a chance to operate. Also, at that moment he felt a surge of
very real fear. His only immediate response concerned the
reporter's ignorance. Bees don't bite, he thought, they sting,
as he himself had good cause to remember. He worked quickly to
the end of the paper, then found himself studying the bee item
Wood was not an entomologist, much less a bee man. But he
was an environmental biologist with knowledge in many areas,
including a bit of melittology (study of honeybees), and to him
the facts presented had an odd ring. A mass attack indicated
honeybees, not solitary bees, but honeybees don't usually swarm
so late in the year. Still, it had been hot. Wood's impression
(an erroneous one, it turned out, though shared by many others)
was that most bees lived in beeyards, so what were they doing
out in the wilds? And, he believed, the chance of two people in
the same family having fatal anaphylactic reactions to bee
stings was small.
But what bothered Wood most was that mass attacks by
honeybees were extremely rare, except in the case of one
singular bee race. On impulse, Wood clipped and filed the
Wood served at the National Academy as Chief Staff Officer
of the Division of Environmental Sciences. Sheldon Hubbard, the
Executive Officer, was his boss. Every Monday the two men met
to review the work of their unit, which acted as a kind of
troubleshooter, trying to spot environmental crises before they
arose. Entering Hubbard's office, Wood found it empty and was
glad. The bee killings had upset him. He wanted a minute to
Shelly Hubbard's personality reached out from the office
walls — wife, kids, dog, degrees, honorary degrees, photos of
Hubbard with Willard Lightower, the Academy's president, with
Soviet scientists, receiving the Pudlo Award for distinguished
zoological research, shooting a rifle, grinning over a golf
trophy. He was a many-faceted scientist and his lush talents
spread from machinery to military history. He was also an
egomaniac, whose biggest disappointment was to have failed to
achieve international renown.
Wood's liking for the older scientist did not blind him to
Hubbard's shortcomings. As a bureaucrat Hubbard could be slow
to act, reluctant to change course, prideful and stubborn. He
let his ego get in the way and had too much confidence in his
own judgment. To Wood, Hubbard's real talent was innovation.
He should have remained a bench scientist, Wood thought, and not
yielded to the flimsy attraction of power his job offered.
Hubbard's attitude toward the younger scientist, with whom
he had a good-natured rivalry, was not completely favorable
either. He called Wood (along with the generation of younger
scientists he represented) a mere calculating machine — sharp,
shrewd, cool, but without blood or bile. Wood knew this
description contained some truth.
Fifteen minutes late as usual, Shelly Hubbard bustled in.
To Wood, Hubbard resembled his own zoological specialty, the
beetle. At fifty-two he was short and massively broad, with a
bulging chest. He had almost no neck at all and his round head
seemed to pivot directly on his sloping shoulders. Two fringes
of black hair stood up on the sides of his bald dome like
Habitually, and in line with his coleoptera
character, Hubbard rubbed his hands together with a rustling
sound or created sucking noises by making a vacuum between his
Hubbard dropped weightily into a chair at the conference
table across from Wood, surveying the pile of work before them
balefully. Wood asked him about the weekend golf. Hubbard made
a face and said he had a shot in the low 90s. Then Hubbard
asked, "Hey, could you fill in for me at the Entomological
Society this week, John? I'd rather play golf. I've had
meetings to here." He placed his hand on the top of his bald
"Sure," Wood said. "I want to talk to Gerston anyway."
"Good. Those new results of his are the scariest thing
since Frankenstein's monster. Speaking of which, we have a few
on the deck this morning."
A foot high, the pile consisted of evaluations, proposals,
strategies, requests from government agencies and the like, with
Wood's recommendations stapled to each. The first was a report
prepared by a group of Southern scientists, destined for the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. It said that the canary-winged
parakeet and the Amazon parrot, both of which had been
accidentally released in Florida, posed a serious threat to
fruit crops. The scientists recommended immediate action. Wood
had said yes and the proposal was cleared for the Academy's
Program Review Committee.
The next item concerned "superrat", as British newspapers
called it jokingly. Knowledgeable scientists hardly thought
superrat a joke. Rats, like other animals, had developed
resistance to conventional poisons; then an anticoagulant called
warfarin had been developed which caused rats to bleed
internally and die. Here, scientists thought, was a poison to
which no resistance was possible and yet, a few generations
alter, rats became resistant to warfarin too. Warfarin-
resistant rats had even been found in upstate New York. But the
British warfarin-resistant rat had taken a further evolutionary
jump. As though it thrived on the poisons used against it, it
had become about one-fourth larger than ordinary rats and could
chew through plaster walls. Stories (unsubstantiated) had it
that superrat would stand up to a cat or small dog and fight to
the death. Whether or not these reports were true, no doubt
existed about the rat's aggressiveness.
Now the Environmental Protection Agency wanted a study on
what to do about superrat if it ever reached American cities.
In crowded ghetto areas it could cause havoc.
Hubbard shuddered. "I have a thing about rats. Remember
what Orwell said in 1984 — that everybody has one thing he is
afraid of? In the book there was a prisoner who seemed unafraid
of anything and they put a cage on his head with a hungry rat in
it. He broke. Just the suggestion of rats has that effect on
Wood was totally unmoved by rats. He wondered idly if
rats ate beetles. "One thing I'm curious about," he said, "is
why suddenly increased size seems to lead to heightened
aggressiveness. That's been observed in insects too. Could the
same be true of man? We're growing larger."
But Hubbard seemed eager to change the subject. "Give
that proposal top priority. Send it directly to Lightower." He
made the squishing noise with his hands.
In this way they inched through the stack with Hubbard
giving assent to almost everything Wood proposed. Later Wood
was to speculate on what might have happened in the matter of
the African bees if Hubbard hadn't stubbornly wished to prove to
Wood that he was still capable of saying no, and if the
McAllister proposal hadn't been near the end of the pile, when
Hubbard always grew restless. Nothing different, surely.
Still, it was tempting to wonder whether a few vital weeks might
have been saved.
F. W. McAllister, apiologist, or bee man, from Kansas
University and a member of the National Academy, had been part
of the team sent by the Academy to Brazil a few years earlier to
study the African honeybee and write a report.* This bee
* * Final Report, Committee on the African Honey Bee, Division
of Biology and Agriculture, National Academy of Sciences,
Washington, D.C., June 1972.
presented something of a puzzle. It was undeniably vigorous.
Compared with the bees of European descent that populate the
Americas, it got out earlier in the morning, worked harder
during the day, and stayed out later in the evening. For this
reason it was capable of producing almost twice as much honey as
the bees of the Americas. But it was also extremely aggressive
and prone to unprovoked attacks on humans and livestock. It had
a high rate of reproduction and because of the overcrowding that
followed, swarmed frequently and at great distances. It liked
to live in the wilds.
In 1956 a Brazilian entomologist had imported African
bees with the idea of crossbreeding them with Brazilian bees and
creating a bee family as industrious as the Africans but as
docile as the European bee. The first lot of African bees had
been carefully selected for gentleness, but it had been sprayed
with DDT en route and arrived in Brazil dead. Rumor said that
the second lot of African bees had been collected at random,
without regard to screening out the more vicious ones. At any
rate, the bees arrived in Brazil. Before the crossbreeding
experiments were completed an unbelievable series of errors
resulted in the escape of twenty-six swarms headed by African
queens. Entomologist had been sure that the aggressive African
gene would be quickly diluted in the vastly larger gene pool of
Brazilian bees. They were wrong.
The bee — Apismellifera adansonii — proved biologically
cunning as well as irascible. It was an invader. Settling
under a beehive, African bees would enter, kill the reigning
queen and replace her with their own. Soon, having reproduced
to the point of crowding, some Africans would swarm and settle
in the wilds. The Africans seemed to prefer trees for their
hives, but they were capable of attacking an anthill, driving
out the ants and remodeling the hill for themselves. As many as
a hundred African hives per square mile had been counted.
Because of its vitality, skill at robbing other bees of their
honey stores and most of all, its genetic dominance, adansonii
had accomplished a biological miracle. Like the Huns, it swept
forward. In a single decade the twenty-six swarms and their
descendants had suppressed and Africanized the whole bee
population of Brazil. Almost all Brazilian bees could now be
The fury of which the African was capable had been
recorded near São Paulo when an African hive was discovered in a
chimney and set on fire. Instantly, said a local newspaper, "a
buzzing mass covered the sun." The Africans stung over five
hundred people and left behind a trail of writhing or dead
chickens and dogs. In widespread regions of Brazil the Africans
had caused human fatalities, disrupted transportation and
farming changed the nature of beekeeping and caused great public
And the invasion was spreading at the rate of more than
two hundred miles a year. If the Africans weren't stopped they
would reach the United States by the late 1970s, some thought —
with results already seen in South America. But in an advanced
economy such as that of the United States the situation might be
disastrous. One reason was the bee's extreme sensitivity to
vibrations. Here, with so much heavy equipment in use, the bee
would be in a state of constant agitation.
McAllister had enclosed a map. It showed clearly the
speed and range of the African penetration, halted only by the
high Andes. The implications were clear.
There was talk of an antibee belt across the Central
American isthmus,and other measures,.* but Mcallister doubted
such schemes would work even if implemented. He was convinced
that the bees would invade the United States. He proposed to
return to Brazil and run a full-scale study on African genetics.
Most bee men believed that if the Africans did enter the United
States the temperate climate would keep them in check.
McAllister worried that the Africans, which had already shown
their adaptability, might produce a hybrid capable of spreading
throughout the United States.
* * Norman E. Gary, "Possible Approaches to Controlling the
African Honey Bee," American Bee Journal, No. 11 (1971), Vol.
Wood was also among the scientists concerned about the
Africans. He favored supporting McAllister and said so.
MAP OF SOUTH AMERICA
Hubbard chose to balk. "I still don't believe the scare
stories. They still sound fishy to me. What are the fatality
figures supposed to be in Brazil?"
"About a hundred and fifty persons a year," Wood said.
"That's got to be the product of the overheated Latin
imagination. And too many American scientists are looking for a
winter vacation in a warm climate."
Wood could almost see Hubbard's mind working. He bought a
theory that even if the Africans came in American beekeepers
would kill them the moment they showed in a hive. Usually it
was hopeless to argue with Hubbard when he'd made up his mind
but Wood thought this issue was worth the effort. "That
insect's a dangerous customer," he said in his faint drawl.
"McAllister's right — we don't know nearly enough about it yet."
"What makes you so sure it won't mutate out okay?" Hubbard
asked. "It's already turned peaceable in southern Brazil."
"And what makes you think it'll stay that way?" Wood asked
in turn. "It's our job to worry about it."
Hubbard said stubbornly, "You worry about it. I won't.
Wood hesitated. "Did you read about the bee killings in
upstate New York?"
Hubbard's deep-set eyes stared from under upswept brows.
"Yes. So what?"
"Where else have you heard about mass attacks like that?"
Hubbard grinned. "You believe they're Africans?"
"I'm just saying that's how Africans act in Brazil. Maybe
a few have gotten in, yes. It's possible."
"Africans in any form would have been reported long ago.
Those bees are in South America and they won't get visas.
Forget them." He was looking at Wood with a quizzical
expression. "Hey, John, I think you've got a bee complex, like
mine about rats. Bees frighten you, don't they?"
Thrown off guard, Wood said, "Why do you ask?"
"Look at your fingers."
Wood glanced down in surprise and saw that his fingernails
were drumming an involuntary tattoo on the tabletop. He admitted
he had an irrational fear of bees.
"Lots of people do, but not me," Hubbard said. "I like
the little critters. I admire their social organization and
ethos. Apis tries harder."
The walls of Wood's office were hung with touristy color
photographs of Washington attractions, like the Capitol and the
cherry blossoms. They had been there when he arrived five years
before and he had never bothered to replace them.
One wall contained a large bulletin board with the names
of Wood's principal projects printed in large letters.
GULF COAST SUPERPORTS
THE BIOSPHERE AND SUPERSONIC TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT, CENTRAL CALIFORNIA WATER PROJECT
STUDY OF THE EFFECTS OF THE CALLAS-FORT WORTH REGIONAL
AIRPORT ON DEVELOPMENT OF THE NORTH TEXAS URBAN
COMMITTEE TO DEFINE CRITERIA FOR IDENTIFYING WILDERNESS
Five years ago there hadn't been such projects because few
people were sufficiently future-oriented then. Even people who
should have known better sometimes hadn't. Even now they often
acted shortsightedly. At that moment Wood was thinking of
John Wood was thirty-five, six feet tall, thin, with a
straight nose, blue eyes, angular cheeks, an affable but
controlled mouth and a military set to his shoulders. He had
the sort of face women reacted to but on the second look, not
the first. He hadn't married he told himself, because he hadn't
found the right girl. Actually, he did his best to stay out of
Wood was from Arizona. He had gotten his Ph.D. in biology
at Harvard, put in two years in the army on secret scientific
research, emerging as a captain, returned to Harvard for post-
doctoral work in environmental studies and become a junior
fellow. He had no real liking for laboratory research, or the
"bench", as scientists put it, and no real inclination to teach.
The job at the National Academy was tailor-made for his
aptitudes — a strong analytic mind, a good memory, a talent for
diplomacy and a deep understanding of the meaning of modern
It had been Wood who was responsible for
establishing the National Academy committee which concluded that
a large fleet of supersonic transports might lower ozone levels
in the upper atmosphere and expose the world to intolerable
amounts of radiation.
Wood also had a flair for ideas which, in his business,
translated as an ability to anticipate trouble. He thought of
this as his private DEWS, Distant Early Warning System.
If Wood's personal DEW line activated now, he had to put
what Hubbard had called his "bee complex" into the equation.
Wood did not regard himself as especially complicated, but he
had this quirk. As a child on his father's small ranch near
Tucson, he had been riding when a bee stung his horse on the
nose. The horse bucked and threw Wood into a mesquite tree.
Wild honeybees had attacked him savagely, stinging him on the
face and both arms. But what affected him most strongly — and
figured in the recurrent dreams he had had ever since — was the
chase. Not content with stinging him repeatedly, the furious
bees had pursued him across the desert as though to drive home a
lesson he would never forget. To his ten-year-old mind it
seemed as though he had run a mile, and perhaps he had —
flailing his arms, sobbing, screaming for his mother. Each
time he thought the ordeal was over, the buzzing in the sky
would begin again. The bees chased him all the way to the ranch
house. His mother extracted the stings, bathed him in cold
water and put him to bed where he stayed for a day. Thereafter
the bees came off and on again in his dreams, pursuing him as he
rode across a desert. On bad nights they stung him to death.
Wood's fear of bees had not sent him running to a
psychiatrist. He had the dreams occasionally and sometimes
buzzing insects made him jump or even break into a clammy sweat.
One day, he was sure, the bee complex would cure itself and in
the meantime it had never affected his life or career. But now
the African bee question had triggered his Distant Early Warning
System and he asked himself if the bee complex could be causing
him to overreact.
Wood's small square office left little room to pace. He
took a few steps to and from the window, picked up the phone
and called McAllister at Lawrence, Kansas. The entomologist
"Sorry. No dice, Mac," Wood said. "Hubbard won't be
budged. He thinks there's a good possibility the Africans will
turn out to be nice guys."
McAllister had a high-pitched voice. It wounded resigned.
"Fat chance. He'll talk out of the other side of his mouth when
the goddamned things cross the Rio Grande. He can't jut sit
around and hope for a favorable mutation."
"He wanted to know why the bee was more peaceable in
southern than norther Brazil. I didn't have any real answer.
The north is tropical, the south temperate -- so the cooler
climate calms them?"
"That's not it," McAllister said. "The bee colonies in
the south are larger and stronger. They put up more of a fight.
They'll succumb eventually. Those Africans are bastards, I tell
Wood said suddenly, "Did you hear about what happened at a
place called Maryville?"
McAllister said he hadn't. When Wood explained, the
apiologist whistled so loudly Wood thought there was trouble on
the line. "That's exactly how our African friends behave." He
paused. "But I can't see any possibility of them getting to New
"Suppose an African were found. Could it be identified
"Maybe. There's been so much interbreeding between bees
that it's hard to know one from another. In theory, adansonii
ought to be a little smaller than American bees, but that's
uncertain too. Even Bill Birch at the Smithsonian had trouble
certifying the California bees as genuine Africans."
"California bees?" Wood said quickly.
"The ones that came off a ship at Richmond."
"What happened?" Wood said, feeling suddenly disturbed.
To Wood it seemed that McAllister's high-pitched voice had
risen higher. "Well, in '72, at Richmond, near San Francisco,
dock workers found bees in the hold of a ship. Bees can travel
by ship, you know, or practically any other way. Containerized
shipping is ideal for them — they build combs right in the
containers. By the time the Agriculture guys got there, the
bees had swarmed. They were found on a dock and gassed. The
whole thing is something of a mystery because the ship had come
from Japan. It had stopped earlier in San Pedro, so maybe the
bees jumped to this ship from another ship there. One ship at
San Pedro had been in Guatemala but the Africans aren't supposed
to have reached Guatemala yet. The specimens were sent to Birch
at the National Museum. He's tops at identifying insects, and
he says they're African."
Wood said sharply, "Did they find the queen?"
McAllister seemed uncomfortable. "As a matter of fact,
they didn't, no."
Wood said, "Well, the implication is that they may have
gotten in, either in that instance or others."
"California's a long way from New York."
Wood tried to keep the irritation out of his voice and
almost succeeded. "It might have helped if you'd told me this
before I talked to Hubbard."
"There are no real facts to go on and I didn't want to
overload my argument," McAllister piped. He sounded defensive.
Wood said, "Well, I guess it wouldn't have affected
Hubbard's decision. And the possibility that the African's in
is very remote."
"On the order of zero," McAllister answered.
"Still, I'd like to be sure."
That same day Henry David was closing his books for the honey
season. Columns of figures marching down his ledger told of the
most spectacular summer in his forty-five years of beekeeping.
The weather had been ideal for flowers — early rains, plenty of
sun, not too hot or too cold — and never had he seen so many
blossoms. Rising to the occasion, the bees had worked harder
than any bees in his long experience, up early and out late.
On the wall of his trailer David had taped a photograph
from a bee journal. It showed the Ohio Honey Queen, golden-
haired and creamy-breasted, wearing a sign that read Honey Bees
are the Angels of Agriculture. Henry David agreed.
He'd been calling himself Henry David for so long that he
had almost forgotten the name on his birth certificate. Decades
ago, as a wiry, shy and secretive young man, with a hatred for
both government and people, he had left his wife and closeted
himself in this underpopulated region of New York. There he set
up as a beekeeper, determined, despite his lack of literary
background, to model himself after his hero, Thoreau. He felt
no regrets, no desire to end his monastic solitude. With his
bees around he never felt alone.
When he wanted to talk he talked to the bees. "Hey,
little girls! Hey, little fellas!"
The bees were his slaves. They worked hard but were
allowed to keep only just enough of their production to stay
alive. Still they gave him no back talk. They were nice
critters to have around.
Besides, bees amused him. He smiled at the thought of the
eager drones hanging around in packs as they waited for the
queens, as the young bucks at the ice cream parlor waited for
skirts. How affectionate some bees were — they would come and
sit on his arms and shoulders without fear. Two of his hives
were especially gentle toward him but not to the other bees.
Toward the rest these bees were scrappy, even violent. They
kept to themselves, to the point of mating only with their own
group. This was because of the habit these queens and drones
had of going on their mating flights in the morning, not in the
early afternoon like the other bees. That was nature's way,
David thought, of not letting them propagate a bad seed, for
these bees were dumb. They gathered no honey to speak of, only
pollen, in huge amounts, which they hoarded. Without David to
feed them they would have starved. Bees were strange!
Henry David found it charming and wonderful that a
creature only a half inch long, with a brain hardly larger than
a pinhead, could perform so many complex operations, such as
heating a hive in winter, cooling it in summer, communicating to
others the exact location of flowers it had found a mile away,
locating the sun through a bank of clouds, building perfect
hexagonal cells without a blueprint.
Still, like all
beekeepers, David struggled to improve his family, to develop
bees that were big producers of honey, docile and resistant to
such diseases as American foulbrood, which could wipe out a hive.
Once a year Henry David left his bees. Many beekeepers
kill off their stock in the fall and buy new bees in the spring,
but David's bees were allowed to try to survive the winter,
though many would die. In late February he set off in his
pickup truck for the South, where the bee breeders were, and
there he would buy new bees to repopulate and improve his hives.
The breeders were using all means possible, including artificial
insemination, to come up with ever better bee strains. Over the
years David had shopped for bees all over the South, though he
had come to have a preference for a large, isolated Florida
apiary located in a grove of mango trees. His buying over, he
gave himself his yearly reward, a trip to a seedy, small-town
brothel, and headed home with the new bees, arriving in time for
the first bloom of dandelions, willows and maples.
Although he was the keeper, occasionally David wondered if
the bees weren't using him, instead of the other way round
their mentality amazed him. Even bees that would never live to
see the winter seemed to know instinctively that summer would
come gain for the colony. There didn't appear to be any sense
of the present with bees, as though what was happening now was
really a part of next year or the year after.
That was why what looked cruel to humans about the bee
world wans't cruel from the bees' point of view. The drone who
perished after he'd mated was only doing his job. And she, the
queen, returning to the hive with the drone's organ sticking out
of her, was like the women who used to hang out bloody sheets to
prove that marriage had been consummated. Once her organ, from
multiple matings, was full of enough sperm to last her whole
live she became nothing more than a machine for laying two or
three thousand eggs a day. That was doing her job. The others
were always watching her. If she began to falter at her laying,
they wouldn't sting her — the inbred respect for royalty forbade
that. Instead, they chose a means of execution in which no
single individual could be held responsible, like a firing
squad. They balled her, clustering around her in such numbers
that she was crushed or suffocated. she didn't fight to live;
it was her job to die.
Bees were the exact opposite of people, David thought.
People seemed to have no sense of the future of their race, but
cared only for themselves and their immediate wants. Bees, on
the other hand, cared only for the future and nothing for
themselves. Even stinging was altruistic: for a bee, to sting
was to die.
Henry David understood bees — at least before this summer
he had thought so. The bees had been acting strangely and had
confused, even frightened him a little, although he didn't like
to admit it to himself. In one sense, at least, bees were like
people: give them half a chance and they stole. You could spot
a delinquent bee by its appearance. Creeping through small
holes into neighboring hives to avoid detection by guards posted
at the main entrance, a robber bee literally scraped the hair
from its body. He had never seen so many robber bees before.
And then there was the propolis, a resinous substance bees
collect from tree buds and use to keep the hive walls smooth and
waterproof. Out in the wilds bees need propolis, but it is a
beekeeper's nightmare. To keep a hive functioning he must
scrape it off. This summer propolis production had been greater
than David had ever seen it. The scraping had almost exhausted
him. In one corner of his mind the suspicion had grown that the
bees were finding plastic and using it in their propolis; he had
found tiny grains of what looked to him like styrofoam. It had
happened before, apparently. The great naturalist Maeterlinck
had reported to unbelieving bee men that Apis could utilize
Henry David's bees had changed in other ways too — such as
sound. Beyond the usual pipings and strummings, the seep-seep
of queens waiting to mate, the trumpetlike war cry of a queen
ready to do battle with another, the squeal of a hurt queen, the
wail of a queenless hive, there was a particular set of bee
noises David always listened for. One was zzzzzzzzz, which told
of contentment, the hum of a hive celebrating a good day in the
fields. Zeeeeeeee said, Attention! Stay away" — and was meant
earnestly to be obeyed. Finally, at the top of the scale was
ziiiiiii, the cry of pure bee hatred. Sometimes ziiiiiii was
accompanied by an actual odor, a war smell, the smell of attack.
Henry David did not often hear ziiiiiii, because he left
the area the moment any of his bees appeared anxious. He knew
that beekeepers had died from the explosive reactions of angry
bees. This summer he had heard the warning note more often and
did not know wy. Possibly he had got a bad strain from the
breeders; with artificial insemination being used, there were
greater chances for error. Perhaps he had some Germans on his
hands; German bees were bad-tempered and David tried to avoid
them. Most likely, though, it was the robbings. Bee
populations like human ones, become restless and agitated when
there is crime in the neighborhood.
A new note had been sounded too, which escalated almost
to a roar. He had heard it only late at night and it puzzled
him, for never in his beeyard had he heard such a noise. He
sometimes imagined that it was his twenty-million-member family
celebrating the most bountiful summer in their history. But was
that what it meant?
Finally, that summer he had lost bees. Henry David could
usually forestall swarming. Even when he failed, the bees would
fly to a nearby branch or fence post and while they sent out
scouts to decide what to do next, it was a simple matter to
recapture them. Not these bees. No less than twenty-five
swarms had absconded without warning, streaking off like arrows
and not turning back. Ordinarily the loss would have mattered,
but this summer, with ten tons of honey to sell, David hadn't
cared. Still, he wondered what had become of them. Perhaps
they were the property of another beekeeper by now, perhaps
because a bee hunter had captured them — he hoped so. Most
probably, however, they were holed up in a hollow tree
somewhere, hungry and despondent, having taken with them only
six days' honey supply. An old adage crossed his mind:
A swarm of bees in May is worth a ton of hay
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm of bees in July ain't worth a fly.
Bees that absconded in late July, as his had, didn't have time
to prepare for winter. They would die.
Henry David could feel winter in the air and there was
work to do. He had about four hundred colonies, each in its own
hive. Each had to be checked out and a sugar solution given
those that had insufficient honey supply for winter. At the
first hive, a bee stung David on the hand. Preoccupied, he had
been moving faster than he ought. Henry David didn't really
mind. Bee stings, he felt sure, were the reason he hadn't a
trace of arthritis or rheumatism although he was close to
seventy. Carefully, he removed the sting. Left in, it would
continue to pump poison ever deeper into the flesh. Long immune
to bee venom, his flesh would not swell. But no matter how
often you had been stung, it always hurt.
THE ENTOMOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
The annual meeting of the American Entomological Association,
held this year in New York, attracted about two thousand
scientists from many disciplines. From Wednesday through
Saturday at the Hilton Hotel they would sit on folding chairs,
listen to papers, exchange ideas, attend cocktail parties and
look for jobs, funding and sport. It was a convention like any
Looking over the thick printed program, John Wood was
struck by the tenor of the proceedings. The tone seemed almost
military — like that of a council of war. there was continual
emphasis on the offensive-defensive quality of the struggle
between the insect world and human beings. For the first time
science was peering deeply into the sociobiology of insects and
the findings were not reassuring. The insects had evolved
sophisticated systems of
communication, organization and
control that seemed, more and more, to parallel those developed
by human beings. Nor were insects so locked into hereditary
patterns as had been thought. Many insects appeared to be
startlingly flexible and changing rapidly.
This was the point raised by Robert Gerston, Ph.D.,
Columbia University, at a panel session the first afternoon.
Gerston was an old friend of Wood's from Harvard. A vanishing
kind, Gerston did entomology in the field when most other
entomologists were studying biology in the lab. He was a six-
foot-four, rawboned man with a battering ram of a nose.
Recently he had concluded a trip to Vietnam, where he had
collected a large number of grasshoppers. Cornell scientists
had reported tentatively that the grasshopper Romales microptera
was able to secrete a froth that contained a chlorinated
compound. Since these compounds were almost absent in nature,
the scientists deduced that the grasshoppers were absorbing it
and using it as a defense weapon, probably against ants, which
would be repelled by the odor. If true, this marked the first
known case where an insect had succeeded in using a man-made
substance for its own defense.*
Gerston proved that South Vietnamese grasshoppers were
using chemicals absorbed from defoliants and not just in their
foam but in their excreta as well, which could evidently be
released in times of danger.
When the questions were over, Wood beckoned to Gerston
with his finger. Gerston followed him into the hall, where they
sat down. They chatted a moment about Gerston's new baby, and
* * Science, 172-277 (April 1971).
then Wood drawled softly, "I had a call from the science editor
of The Times. He wanted to know if your findings were accurate."
Gerston frowned. "I wish they weren't."
"I told him they were, though. You said on the phone
there was something else."
Gerston peered down the hall. Then he said, "Well, in a
way there is. I mean, it's not the sort of thing you
necessarily want to commit to paper. Once you've written it,
you sound as though you believe it, no matter how you hedge.
Know what I mean?"
Wood said he did.
Gerston uncrossed his long legs. "You understand how the
study was conducted? We caught a large number of grasshoppers
and brought them back. The secretion was obtained by gently
squeezing individuals and collecting the froth and the excreta.
What we got was a few drops of fluid, which were carefully
analyzed. The herbicides showed up clearly. That wasn't all."
Wood said, "Go on."
"Well, in addition to the defoliant compounds there was
DDT. I don't mean merely an unassimilated residue — there has
to be some of that, because the Vietnamese use the stuff. This
DDT was combined with the grasshoppers' defensive substances,
just as the herbicides were. The quantity was minute and I'm
not prepared to publish anything without more research. But
there is now evidence that 'hoppers have learned to use
insecticides for defense. I thought I'd let you know."
Wood's angular face wrinkled in concentration. He said
slowly, "The implications are staggering."
"It's a little like equipping the insect world not just
with conventional weapons but with atomic bombs to use against
each other. I just can't imagine the results for them."
Wood said the obvious, "Or for us."
At scientific conferences like these Wood always floated,