Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Birth of a Bee

©Bert Gildart: (Note: see comment below about the difference between bees and wasps.  As a novice “bee” watcher I mistakenly called the insects pictured here bees when in fact they are wasps. However, the story line still holds as does the drama of watching — AND PHOTOGRAPHING — a wasp (!!) as it emerges from its cell.)

Because of the immense dry spell we are currently experiencing in Montana’s Flathead Valley, our property has been infested with bees and wasps.  During our one month stay in Seattle (see last couple of posts), bees have built many nests around our house.  But the most troublesome nest was one they built right over the door of my tool shed, and if I wanted access to the lawn mower I had to eliminate it.

I sprayed the nest then left it, but several days later read an article in Time Magazine about the decline in bees.  The story explained the absolute necessity of living with bees — if we wanted to continue enjoying vegetables such as avocado, watermelon, celery, cotton, and onions.


Having just emerged from its cell, a bee prepares to take wing.


Hoping to better understand the  biology of bees, yesterday I removed the seemingly inert nest.  I then opened it, discovering life in the nest was still emerging.  It was an incredible opportunity to photograph a complex biological event that has taken millions of years to perfect.

Though my spray had killed the active bees inside the nest there remained a number of cells covered with wax that had apparently escaped the chemical’s toxic effect.  Several new bees were emerging and I watched as this aspect of their lives played out, discovering that although they have a complex life cycle its essence could be summarized.

Bees-9 Bees-12 Bees (7 of 7)

One bee has just emerged from cell, another is about to emerge.  Emergence is not head first, rather it is tail first. Completely
free from its cell, a bee prepares to take flight. This struggle to emerge from the cell takes hours.

Queen bees lay eggs in each of the cells (white spots in accompanying photos) which soon hatch to become larva.  Worker bees feed the larva, which, soon  develop into  mature larva.  Again worker bees enter the picture covering each cell with wax.

Yet another stage plays out, and over a 13-day period  larva are  transformed into pupa — then into to recognizable bees, but ones that must soon confront an immense challenge.

Here’s where I entered the picture, watching as these, now,  fully recognizable bees began to eat away the wax that covered the cell.  But more dramatically, I watched as these bees struggled to emerge.

Only a few of the cells remained viable, but for my purposes, that was all I needed.  Of course I needed lots of time – about three hours – to create the pictures shown here, for the only thing instant about bee biology is their sting.

Bees (2 of 7)

Worker bees cover each of the cells with a wax shortly after queen lays her eggs.  Subsequently, the larva inside the cell
develops into a pupa then to a recognizable bee which must literally eat its way free of the cap over the cell. 
Bee on left has just completed the task.

To gain freedom from the cell each of the bees would eat — push and prod; eat –  push and prod until, finally, its tail would start to appear.  The bees struggled some more until a fully formed bee  emerged to rest on the lip of the cell.  Here, they would swirl their wings.

But, one bee, apparently not liking its new environment, crawled back into the cell.  Moments later a second struggle ensued and eventually the bee returned to the lip of the cell where it again fluttered its wings — apparently practicing for life outside the nest.

Thirty minutes later, the bee lifted itself and took off, but just where it went, I know not.

I made this sequence of photographs using a macro lens and two electronic flash units.  Though I am not sorry I destroyed the nest on the door of my shed, I do wish the bee population at large good health.  They are fascinating creatures and any interested in learning about the prospect of a world devoid of bees should pick up a copy of the August 19th issue of Time Magazine.  You’ll recognize the issue by its cover, which features a photograph of a bee in flight.


*Sexton Glacier, One of Glacier National Park’s Last?


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

7 Responses to “Birth of a Bee”

  1. Susan Maffei Says:

    Amazing photos, Bert!

  2. pitts2b Says:

    The pictures you have posted are of wasp not bees!

  3. Bert Says:

    I think lay people lump all bee-like insects together and call them “bees.” I know you are right but wish you’d explain the difference. Thank you.

  4. Bert Says:

    As a novice bee/wasp observer I didn’t realize the important distinction between the two. Several, however, have written explaining the importance of differentiating, and because the difference now seems important, I’m including a note from one of my readers, Nancy Robertson. As you’ll see Nancy has worked as a naturalist for the Michigan Audubon Society.

    Here is her comment, as follows:

    We met several years ago at Chiricahua National Monument. My husband and I travel in a 20′ Airstream. We have been following your travels every since.

    I read with interest your article about the “bees” which built a nest over your tool shed door. I am sorry to be a knit picker but many people mistake Yellow Jackets for bees. All species of bees are indeed declining in numbers and are in danger in many parts of the world.

    The wonderful pictures you posted were however not of bees but of Yellow Jackets, who build the paper nests that you show in your pictures. Yellow Jackets are aggressive predatory wasps and should not be confused with Honey or any other species of bees, which tend to be much more mild mannered than Yellow Jackets. Yellow Jackets can be found around flowers but do not pollinate them. Flowers are good hunting grounds for other insects, including small bees, upon which they prey. Yellow Jackets are indeed fascinating creatures and are helpful around the garden as they feed on harmful caterpillars and flies. your photographs of the young wasps emerging are excellent and I enjoyed them very much.

    However as a former Interpretive Naturalist for a Michigan Audubon Society nature center, and knit picker, I am concerned that mistaking Yellow Jackets for bees gives bees an undeserved bad reputation.

    Keep the great photos coming, I enjoy them and your stories of your travels.

  5. Tom & Sandi Palesch Says:

    Good you are back at the computer and behind the camera. The best part of the year in Big Fork is coming up for you and Janie. We’re glad to see you back in action.

    Tomp & Sandi

  6. Tim Says:

    It’s been a big year for wasps around the Flathead. I got stung on the knuckle and that hurt worse than just about anything I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to find out more about them so I went to Wikipedia and found out that Yellow jackets are non-native and they are an invasive species.
    Check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_jacket

  7. Eva Jordan Says:

    Enjoyed your pictures of wasps and their life cycle. I have wasps on my front porch. They build their nests close to my porch ceiling. Dirt daubers are a type of wasps that build mud nests close to my porch ceiling, too They don’t sting. Yellow jackets are wasps that build their nests in the ground. My dad and I mowed over one several years ago. Wasn’t good!
    We have hornets that are a large wasp that build their huge nests in trees. My dad drove his tractor under one. Ouch! He later shot it out of the tree and I took it to school. It hung in my classroom for several years until it begin to disintegrate. I had honey bees to build in a wooden post on my porch. I called Pest Control They said it is against the law to kill bees but gave me a man’s name who raises bees. He came and took care of the bees. I live in the country and with two boys have lots of critter stories.