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S40 Ep1

My Garden of a Thousand Bees

Premiere: 10/20/2021 | 00:00:30 | Closed Captioning Icon

A story of surprise and revelation. A wildlife filmmaker spends his time during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown filming the bees in his urban garden and discovers the many diverse species and personalities that exist in this insect family.

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About the Episode

Taking refuge from the coronavirus pandemic, wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrn set out to record all the bees he could find in his tiny urban garden in Bristol, England, filming them with one-of-a-kind lenses he forged on his kitchen table. See his surprising discoveries in My Garden of a Thousand Bees, premiering nationwide Wednesday, October 20 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/nature and the PBS Video app.

The documentary, which kicks off Nature’s 40th season on PBS, follows Dohrn during the COVID-19 lockdown of spring and summer 2020, as he becomes bee obsessed and develops relationships with individual bees. Filming more than 60 species of bees, from Britain’s largest bumblebees to scissor bees, which are the size of a mosquito, Dohrn observes how differences in behavior set different species apart from each other. Eventually, he gets so close to the bees, he can identify individuals just by looking at them.

Viewers will marvel at moments timely captured in My Garden of a Thousand Bees, such as bees laying tiny eggs preparing for the next generation, green-fanged spiders feasting on male flower bees and a female yellow-faced bee attacking a Gasteruption wasp to protect her nest. Other fascinating behavior featured in the program includes two male bees fighting each other over a female, different species of bees competing over territory and one busy bee building a nest with a shell and hundreds of sticks. Intrigued by the intelligence of one particular wood-carving leafcutter bee, Dohrn dubs her “Nicky” and sees life at her level as she leaves a lasting legacy in the garden.

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PRODUCTION CREDITS

MY GARDEN OF A THOUSAND BEES

FILMED & NARRATED BY
MARTIN DOHRN

DIRECTED BY
DAVID ALLEN

PRODUCED BY
GABY BASTYRA

FILM EDITOR
STEVE WHITE

PRODUCTION EXECUTIVE
CLARE LUCAS

ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY
HUGH CAMPBELL

SOUND RECORDIST
AXEL DRIOLI

ADDITIONAL SOUND RECORDING
GARY STADDEN
BEN CAPP

DRONE
LEO WHITFIELD
LAURENCE HAMILTON-BAILLE

EDIT ASSISTANTS
JED ALLEN
SCOTT QUINN

CAMERA ASSISTANT
JACOB NICO-KATZ

COMPOSER
FRASER PURDIE

SOUND EDITOR
JONNY CREW

DUBBING MIXER
HANNAH GREGORY

FOLEY ARTIST
PAUL ACKERMAN

POST-PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
CHRISTOPHER GENT

ONLINE EDITOR
BARRIE PEASE

COLORIST
PETE LYNCH

SCIENTIFIC ADVISORS
PROF. DAVE GOULSON
SAMMY RAMSEY PHD
JOHN WALTERS

RESEARCHERS
ZARA TYNE
KATIE SMYTH
OLIVIA MASSEY
NATALIE DOHRN

LOGISTICAL SUPPORT
LAURA FLEGG

SPECIAL THANKS
GLOUCESTERSHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST
KINGSDOWN CYCLING CLUB
PHIL NAYBOUR
HARRY MARSHALL
JOHN MURRAY
HILARY PROSSER
LOUISE VERGETTE
JOHN WATERS
THE BEES

ARCHIVE
ANAND VARMA
CURIOSITYSTREAM
JAMES DUNBAR
AMMONITE FILMS

MUSIC
“Castles” BY FREYA RIDINGS

“Spring at Last” BY PETE JOSEF

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

FUNDING

Support for Nature: My Garden of a Thousand Bees was provided by The Hite Foundation, Bradley L. Goldberg Family Foundation and The Sun Hill Family Foundation in memory of Susan and Edwin Malloy. Series funding for Nature is also made possible in part by the Arnhold Family in memory of Henry and Clarisse Arnhold, The Fairweather Foundation, Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao, Charles Rosenblum, Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, Leonard and Norma Klorfine, Sandra Atlas Bass, Colin S. Edwards, Gregg Peters Monsees Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by public television viewers.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪♪ Dohrn: This is Bristol, England... and this is my garden.

It's not really that special.

We've just let some of the wild back in.

But as a wildlife filmmaker, I knew there were revelations here that could be just as amazing as anything I'd ever filmed across the globe.

In the spring of 2020, as the country goes into lockdown, outside, the garden is coming alive.

Suddenly, there are bees emerging all over.

These bees, they just go zoom, you know, zoom.

♪♪♪ But if they're nesting, I can't get near them.

I can see these little antennae come up, but they look over, and I'm absolutely still, but now I have to go to the focus and as soon as I do that, they go down again.

Discovering the secret life of bees took me on a journey I was not expecting.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Sirens wailing ] Dohrn: Let's have a look.

Cripes.

Oh, dear.

Man: [ Laughs ] Dohrn: For over 30 years, I've been filming wild animals all over the world, and all of a sudden, I'm locked down at home.

My only escape now from the pandemic is in my city garden and my fascination with the wild bees that live here.

♪♪♪ Turning my cameras onto my own backyard is revealing things as spectacular as anything I have ever seen before.

Transporting me to another universe.

Another dimension of existence.

Have I just got pandemic fever or is it just another midlife crisis?

Nah. I'm too old for a midlife crisis, it's more of a late-life revelation.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Bees are fast. You can't film them with ordinary cameras and ordinary lenses.

If you've got something just going like this, well, you know, you don't know what the hell it's doing.

You really need fast reflexes, you need equipment that's barely been developed, you have to film everything in slow motion, and you have to have the reactions of a hawk.

I've probably got reactions as good as a rabbit.

Probably not even that good.

[ Laughs ] ♪♪♪ I'm traveling into a hidden world but one that exists around us all.

Even in a garden like this in the middle of the city, there is an astonishing diversity of bees.

If I told people, 'Oh, yeah, there's 60 species of bee in my garden,' they go, 'Really?

Are you sure?'

I go, 'Yeah, well more than 60.'

♪♪♪ One of the very first bees out is the hairy-footed flower bee.

Check out his hairy legs.

I can get close to film these bees because they fly between the same patches of flowers, scent-marking their routes as they go.

They're like perfumed bee highways.

These bees just go zoom, you know, zoom.

These, of all the bees, are the most fun to watch because of their sheer precision flying.

They can literally turn on a sixpence in a fraction of a second.

They got these funny little beady eyes and they this really kind of keen hovering, and when the female moves, they follow her round and they -- and I just love that.

In those early weeks, most of the other bees were not even out yet.

[ ] Man: Dohrn: As everyone in the country retreats indoors, underground, the garden is coming alive.

♪♪♪ What most people don't realize is actually bees spend much of their lives not as a lovely bee flying around in the sun but in the dark as an egg, or a sort of maggoty thing in a nest somewhere.

♪♪♪ Then there's the transformation, from a larvae... into a flying wonder of nature.

♪♪♪ Metamorphosis -- it really is an extraordinary process.

It takes 21 days for these domesticated honey bees to make the leap.

There are 270 other species of bee in this country.

They are the wild bees.

Very different to the social honey bee that we're all so used to.

♪♪♪ They mostly live solitary lives, and many will have been waiting fully formed throughout the winter.

Each species with its own particular time to emerge, coinciding with the flowers it likes the best.

♪♪♪ In complete darkness, somehow each bee knows which way to head on its journey to reach the light.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ This is the first time they've seen the world.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ When the bee comes out of its hole, they sit there and they look out and they do this with their head.

They're doing, like, a kind of pixel shift thing.

I think what they're trying to do is make a very high-resolution image that they will need to remember to return to.

Suddenly, there are bees emerging all over the garden.

It's kicking off all over the place.

But this is the challenge -- if I want to know more about their lives, somehow, I've got to follow them.

[ ] ♪♪♪ This garden in spring is utterly beautiful.

♪♪♪ I'm amazed that so much diversity can exist in such a small place.

[ Women vocalizing ] ♪♪♪ Woman: ♪ Open your eyes ♪ ♪ Look around you ♪ ♪ Feel the breeze ♪ ♪ On your face ♪ ♪ And breathe in ♪ Dohrn: It's not really special, we've just let some of the wild back in.

We didn't really try very hard to kind of manicure it.

We just -- A lot of things we just relaxed about.

Man: It's full of weeds basically is what you're saying?

Dohrn: There's no such thing as a weed, there's only plants that people don't understand.

They're all as beautiful as any kind of fancy tulips or chrysanthemums.

Indeed for me, they're more beautiful because they've been created entirely by the forces of evolution.

That is nature.

[ Slow-motion buzzing ] For me, a flower is more beautiful if you can see the bee it was built for actually using it.

The flower bees have evolved alongside tubular flowers like these.

It's not until you have the luxury of having the pictures in slow motion, in focus, in a way that you can go, 'Oh, I see, that's what it's doing.'

I had no idea they had such huge tongues, it really is longer than its body.

As she drinks, she buzzes her wing muscles, dislodging pollen onto her body... ...which she takes to the next flower.

Bees are at the center of the world's pollination services.

They are pollinating the fabric of life.

Yet, all over the world, bees are declining.

We really do need to start taking more notice of them.

♪♪♪ But opening up the secret life of the bees is not as easy as I was expecting.

♪♪♪ I soon found out that many of the bees really didn't want to be filmed at all.

The first month was incredibly frustrating because I had all this extraordinary behavior just going on in front of me that I could see from 10 feet away, but as soon as I tried to zoom in on it with the camera, it either stopped or, you know, they flew away.

The flower bees kind of accepted me.

I mean, it was easy to frighten them off... ...but some of the other bees I simply couldn't get near.

The furrow bees, you know, if they're nesting, I can't get near them and it is hilarious to watch them.

I can see these little antennae come up and then I can see these little eyes come up, and they look over and I'm absolutely still, but now I have to go to the focus, and as soon as I do that, they go down again.

It can take half a day to get through that process where the bee's going, 'Okay, it's not going away, I'm hungry, I've got to go and do something.'

I've had plenty of experience filming small animals of all kinds.

My last film was about ants with David Attenborough.

But wild bees are very different.

They're so alert, to get close, I have to invent all kinds of gadgets.

There we go.

This is a lens. It's a super-tiny, super-wide-angle lens, super-high quality.

That is the purpose of all of this stuff.

♪♪♪ In order to get anywhere near the bees, I have to kind of shrink myself down to their size, but I also have to stretch time.

Bees live in a completely different dimension.

At this scale, we get a fresh view on the physics of bee existence.

And what it's like to be a creature that weighs a fraction of an ounce but that can gather over 100 times its body weight in pollen in just a matter of weeks.

This is the bee that everyone said couldn't possibly fly, but of course she can fly extremely well.

You see those wing beats? Above them are mini tornados which actually suck her into the air.

♪♪♪ In this dimension, the sound shifts as well.

[ Buzzing, fluttering ] [ Slow-motion chirping, buzzing ] Listening to bird calls filmed at this speed evokes their dinosaur origins.

[ Distorted chirping ] Well, for me anyway.

♪♪♪ It is incredible to see how they develop an understanding of their surroundings and how their experience grows.

When any of the bees come out, most of them have never even seen a flower before. They don't know what it is.

When they discover something like a dandelion, they get plastered in pollen.

You only see that on the first days in spring.

Shortly after, they know that they don't want to get covered in pollen.

They either collect it or leave it alone.

It seems to me they are learning.

But actually, for me, the most interesting bit is the males when they emerge, not only have they not seen flowers, they've never seen a female either.

They must have some kind of instinctive urge to look for something that resembles a female.

But they are not very good at it yet.

They're jumping on flies, they're jumping on leaves, they're jumping on completely different species of bee.

This only happens in the early part of their lives.

They learn quickly from their mistakes.

They only live a week or so, and the race is on to find a mate.

I'm not sure I could say that insects were in love, but certainly male bees are in lust.

The flower bee males are actually quite good at identifying their females.

Even so, he's still not having much luck.

I think what his aim is he wants to jump on her back and enclose her wings so that she can't fly away.

Time after time, he fails miserably.

She was just foraging quietly on her own.

Next thing she knows, she's being slammed from the side by an amorous male and now they're tumbling through the undergrowth.

A look of shock, anger, horror, you know, even in a bee with no facial expressions tells me that this isn't good.

Now he's just looking at her 'Oh, I love you, I do.

I love you.'

He's going 'Yeah, I love you, I do.

Oh, yeah.'

♪♪♪ Hunting for females is tiring work.

This male is looking for a hole to rest in.

♪♪♪ But not all the holes are empty.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ For a few weeks in the year, hungry green fang spiders feast on naive flower bee males, helping to weed out the slow and dim-witted.

A bigger threat to most bees in my garden comes not from spiders, but other bees.

Like the sinister-looking nomad bee... ...who is looking for the underground nest of a mining bee by following her.

When the mining bee turns, the nomad immediately drops to the ground as if playing dead.

When the mining bee thinks the coast is clear, she goes to her burrow.

The nomad is watching.

As the mining bee leaves, the nomad bee sneaks in to lay her egg in the nest... ...where her larvae will eat the mining bee egg and feast on her pollen store.

No wonder so many of these bees hate being watched.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ As spring draws to a close, I've already counted over 30 species of bee in the garden.

And the variety is -- is actually quite mind-boggling.

From minute yellow-faced bees to gigantic bumblebees.

From shiny sweat bees to hairy carder bees.

♪♪♪ From the good old honey bees... to these scissor bees.

No bigger than a mosquito.

♪♪♪ Filming this scale of bee makes a difficult task practically impossible.

They block their nests with the tiniest grains of sand.

I'm focused on an area that's about that big, you know, if you can imagine.

Blinking would make the camera shake.

You know, sometimes you can see the heartbeat going like this as I'm trying to film it.

Phew. It's a nightmare, mate.

There's a new bee out.

It's a wool carder bee.

The male is a monster and you can see the female is half his size.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ This male owns all of these flowers.

♪♪♪ He'll chase anything that comes into this territory.

Bees like this bumblebee are in trouble if one of these guys is around.

On his rear end, he's got some really quite vicious-looking spikes which can inflict serious damage to his enemies.

He's a bit like a lion in the sense that he mates with the females whenever he can, he attacks anything that moves in his territory, and in particular, when he meets a male of his own species, there is trouble.

He meets the other male and the two of them size each other up.

He tries to stab him with his spikes.

The interloper is driven off.

The only welcome bee in this territory is a female.

The male mates with the same female three or four times in a row... ...before they seem to get a sense that they've both done this and they don't need to do it anymore.

It does appear as if the male can actually recognize which females he's mated with.

He just kind of flies up, has a look, and then flies off.

So this is the garden where it all takes place.

And this -- this bit here is particularly good 'cause it's a really hot corner, and this fence post here is where the scissor bees live.

That's a particularly good place to see them.

Well, the Waitrose house -- I bought that in Waitrose -- the male leaf cutters and the male mason bees love it for roosting at night, so sometimes you can see them all looking out, like they're all tucked up in bed and they're just watching, waiting for the weather to pick up.

So this is the flower bee highway right through here, and this is where the males will search for females and the females might be here, feeding on the nectar here.

If a male comes along and he's, like, slams on the brakes -- [imitates brakes squealing] -- then he will hover and stare at her in a really appreciative way.

I've never, ever seen successful mating in this situation.

But I have seen them mate on the ground.

On his route, he also has little sunlit patches of leaves which the female likes to sit on.

The female -- there he is -- the female, she might just be cleaning pollen off herself or something like that and then the male comes along, same process, he sees her, he's transfixed, he's like, 'Oh, my God.'

It's like a little dance.

He has to kind of hover round her and then get closer and closer.

He jumps on her and he puts his -- puts some legs around her, and then basically -- then he gets up and he has to -- he gets his hairy legs out and he starts waving them around, but in real time, it's like about -- you know, it's much faster than that.

In slow motion, you can see the tufts on his hairy legs.

He is gently -- Three times he brushes them on the female's antenna, then three times he brushes them on the female's antenna.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ It took me a month to discover what he actually does with those hairy legs during sex.

All I knew at the start of that was that the hairs are associated with scent.

That's about as much as anybody ever knew.

♪♪♪ By the start of summer, we seem to have survived the first wave of the pandemic, and us humans were finally being able to leave home and re-enter the streets of our city.

♪♪♪ But I was in far too deep.

♪♪♪ There's a new wave of bees on its way.

Here, the streets of Bee City are starting to come alive.

Bee City is really just some bits of old wood sort of just along the very back hedge, just above the street.

I'd heard that if you drill some holes in it, you know, bees like that.

And I noticed bees were using it.

There seems to be a kind of shortage of a culmination, so I built some more.

I thought I'd make a more proper bee hotel.

♪♪♪ They're all interested in holes.

Holes are their thing.

They can't fly past an interesting hole without having a look.

They just love it.

♪♪♪ It's all about the holes.

This is where bees create their homes.

That's what wild bees do.

They lay down a larder of pollen and nectar on which to lay their egg.

They make an internal wall, seal off the cell, then repeat until this tunnel is full.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Yellow-faced bees are also moving into Bee City.

They're tiny little things about 5 millimeters long.

They're so small they're pretty much invisible.

Most people just don't even know they're there, and they just look like tiny little black flies.

You wouldn't know what's going on.

These two have made their homes in a side chamber of a bigger hole and they can join forces to keep guard against their arch-nemesis... ...the wasp gasteruption.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Gasteruption, well, gasteruption jaculator.

It's an incredible gangly, weird thing that hovers in such a way so it just looks like an alien with a jetpack just kind of hovering around, sort of looking for the poor old yellow-faced bee to zap with its ray gun.

♪♪♪ It has an incredibly long ovipositor that it uses to lay its eggs in the nests of yellow-faced bees.

Those antennae can detect the scent of the host.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ A yellow-face comes back, sees an intruder, and attacks.

♪♪♪ They've won this small battle, but their problems are far from over.

A huge wood-carving leafcutter appeared in the old city.

It's one of the first of this species I've ever seen.

♪♪♪ She lands right in the yellow-faced bee's hole.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The yellow-face rears up on its hind legs to try and intimidate this giant.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The way it was now well and truly blocked to the yellow-face's nest.

It's tough on the smaller bees, but shows just how ruthless these single mothers need to be.

The tunnel definitely now belonged to her.

♪♪♪ I didn't know at the time, but I would get to know this bee better than any others in the garden.

♪♪♪ I called her Nicky because she had a nick in her wing.

But getting close didn't come easy.

I think it's really important to know that the thing that you are filming is the thing that the animal would normally be doing.

When the bee is relaxed, it's doing what it wants to do as opposed to what my presence might be forcing it to do.

I really wanted to film leafcutters because of their amazing nest-building behavior.

But it is not as easy to film as I thought.

♪♪♪ I honestly sat by her first tunnel for like, you know, two days.

I knew that Nicky didn't want anything to do with me because she had absolutely avoided me at all costs.

And I got really worried, so I backed off to let her get on with her life.

♪♪♪ In Bee City, it was easy to get distracted by all kinds of drama.

In the distance, I could see the fly.

The jumping spider comes down again and then he sneaks along, and he comes up over again and he looks around and when they do their little looking at the fly, he just gets up there, then a greenbottle lands over to the left and he has a look at that, 'No, that's not it.'

Fly is doing the grooming, you know, because a lot of work, all that grooming, you know, the back and the shoulders and the -- and doing the head and the eye.

And he gets to a point, when he's close enough, I can see that he's put his legs down, ready to jump.

He jumps, and then it's like, 'yes,' and it all comes to a stop exactly where it left off, exactly in focus because the spider had laid a silk anchor right there.

He's got the fly.

It's a bad fly for bees.

It's one that lays eggs in bee holes, and so in this case, the spider is a friend of the bees, not an enemy.

While I was trying to persuade some furrow bees to let me film them at their nest, I noticed that Nicky had completed that nest literally 3 meters from me [Chuckles] without me noticing.

Where I'd been waiting for 2 days was now a green completed cell that would have been exactly the behavior I was trying to film.

Now, suddenly, I had a new opportunity.

Nicky was moving to the new builds to make another nest.

That was probably a month after she first appeared.

After that, she'd pretty much accepted me.

There is a moment when she looks me directly in the eye but not showing fear.

She just looks at the camera and then she comes out a bit, she looks around, she looks at all the other things, and she looks at the camera again and goes, 'Oh, yeah, I think I'll be off foraging now. Bye.'

And off she goes.

Finally, Nicky shows me her leaf-cutting skills.

The reason they cut leaves is to line the wooden tunnel, making a bee-size cell before smearing it with nectar and other stuff.

Then they go off to gather pollen to fill it.

Leafcutters use their furry belly to gather pollen, but they are far from cuddly.

♪♪♪ Unlike honey bees, most of the wild bees have a sting they can re-use.

And when hassled, they don't hesitate to use it.

♪♪♪ The feisty leafcutters also have an armor-like exoskeleton.

♪♪♪ If this crab spider is to have any chance of a kill, it has to find the soft junction between the head and the body to deliver its venom.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ A sting in the face does the trick.

♪♪♪ My relationship with Nicky really seems to be growing.

I mean, you know, most people would think that's stupid that a bee and a man could have a relationship, but there's no doubt that we were getting to know each other.

I can tell she's looking at me.

Does she know these are my eyes? I don't know, I have no idea, but scientists have shown that honey bees can recognize individual people, so why wouldn't she?

♪♪♪ This really is a city of bees, and with 10 species living here, I suppose you'd say it was a very multicultural place.

♪♪♪ Spending this much time in the neighborhood means I'm even on first-name terms with a few of the residents.

The naming just comes to you, so Nicky -- I call her Nicky 'cause she's got a nick in her wing.

There's another one who is missing half of one of her antenna, she's called One-tenna.

And there are two others, one of them is called The Neighbor because she lives right next door to One-tenna, and then there's another one called The Late Comer because she was the last one to appear.

Alongside them, there are two mason bees which are much smaller.

One of them lived right next to Nicky.

I called her Leia, derived from her Latin name, I could call her Princess Leia, but I just call her Leia.

If she's a princess, she has a very small kingdom, which is basically 3 tunnels full of babies that she's made this year.

♪♪♪ Throughout Bee City, everyone is hard at work finishing their tunnels.

♪♪♪ The mason bees like Leia here also cut leaves for their nests, but chew it in to pulp to seal the hole.

♪♪♪ These red mason bees use mud to seal up their nest.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Leafcutters bring back perfect pieces of circular leaf, cut to fit their tunnel exactly.

When closing a hole, Nicky will put literally 40 layers of leaf in there all stacked up to foil her archenemy, the sharp-tailed bee.

The sharp-tail is a cuckoo bee, and it specializes in parasitizing leafcutter nests.

The sharp tails are a constant threat.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I think in Nicky's mind, maybe 40 layers of protection aren't even enough.

She starts going off and looking in other tunnels or underneath the blocks.

I thought maybe she's looking for some little bits of rock or something.

She comes back with a stick, it's like 2 inches long, and she's flying through the air with this stick.

I mean, what is she doing with that?

How does the stick compute for her?

She's experimenting, thinking it through.

Clearly something's going on in her mind here.

Remember, this is a bee.

A moment like that reveals far more than preconceived ideas about what a leafcutter does.

♪♪♪ But not as odd as I first thought.

This construction of grass stems takes bee architecture to new heights.

♪♪♪ The red-tailed mason bee, nicknamed the tent-making bee, has solved the problem of cuckoo bees breaking into her nursery.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ After carefully picking a snail shell, she fills it with both leaf pulp and mud.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Like Nicky, every stage of the process involves decisions.

She spends a long time to position the shell into just the right angle on the ground.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Even digging it into the soil to hold that position.

♪♪♪ But that's just the beginning.

Next comes a huge undertaking.

♪♪♪ She gathers hundreds of bits of carefully chosen sticks of grass.

♪♪♪ To drive the stems into the structure, she vibrates her wing muscles, which is why the whole thing hangs together.

♪♪♪ Over three hours, she assembles a huge structure more than 20 times her height.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Nothing can get into this fortress.

♪♪♪ Back at Bee City, Nicky is getting to the end of her tenure.

She's looking a bit ragged now, but she's still working hard on her tunnels.

Inside, I could see how neatly she's placed the pollen, and this was white thistle pollen.

There were no thistles in my garden.

Where was this thistle pollen coming from?

I watched Nicky when she left, and I watched the direction she went in.

She just kept going up in a north westerly direction.

So then I looked on a map, and I looked at the places that, in that line, that could possibly have those thistles, and I got to a place called Redling Green where there were thistles there.

When I looked, there was a bee pretty much identical to Nicky, I was absolutely sure that was Nicky.

[ Slow-motion buzzing ] When she flies out of her hole, she has a mental map of the city.

She goes to a place she has previsualized.

She is going to go to that destination and do the thing that she has planned to do.

She has a complex world to deal with, has to deal with mating courtship, finding a home, she has to forage, go great distances.

She has to do this all on her own.

She can't just ask her mates, 'Yeah, yeah, seen any good flowers recently, mate?'

And that I find is the remarkable thing.

[ Birds chirping ] [ Buzzing ] The more I became absorbed in their lives, the more I was seeing differences in how individuals react to each other.

One-tenna is particularly aggressive to everyone.

She always seems to be arguing with her mason bee neighbor.

They seem to have a tit-for-tat fighting thing going on.

Nicky and her neighbor Leia just get along fine.

They never argue.

One-tenna -- possibly because the antenna are linked to memory through scent -- came back, but instead of going to her hole, she went to the neighbor's hole.

She's got the neighbor's jaws in her jaws.

She's trying to pull the neighbor out of her hole.

This fight went on and on and on, and I mean I was really worried.

I didn't know what to do.

I thought, 'Well, should I break it up?'

You can't just interfere with things like that.

It's never that simple.

But I really did want it to stop.

These bees were clearly using huge amounts of energy.

That story tells me that these bees, they're not all identical.

[ Slow-motion buzzing ] All of them behave differently.

They must have some serious brain power.

People would say, 'Oh, yeah, it's just instinct.'

Well, yeah, but how does the instinct work?

'Well, it's an algorithm, mate.'

It's like, well, how is that different to what we do?

It's really hard to explain, but I really feel for them.

They're really -- I could say they're my friends, but I mean, they don't really give me much.

Every now and again, one bee or other might actually land on the camera and that, I do feel touched by that.

♪♪♪ I felt I knew Nicky pretty well by now, but I wasn't ready for what she let me see next.

♪♪♪ She was well on the way to filling another tunnel for the next generation.

She then does this extraordinary thing.

She turns round in the tunnel, something I've never seen her do, so she has to form a ball with her body.

Like a kind of gymnast doing some kind of strange move.

And then when I pull focus in to the hole, I could see an egg, a great big egg.

It's huge. I mean, it's like three or four millimeters long.

♪♪♪ I honestly never expected to be able to see an egg from the outside in that way.

What a privilege to be there at that moment.

[ Slow-motion buzzing ] ♪♪♪ I have been sitting here for a couple of months.

It feels like a lifetime, but of course it's not for me, but it is for a bee.

Ridings: ♪ You left my love, you hit the target ♪ Dohrn: I've seen Nicky make three complete tunnels, each with at least six cells inside.

And now she's on her fourth tunnel.

Ridings: ♪ I never noticed ♪ ♪♪♪ Dohrn: But it wasn't just me taking an interest in Nicky's new egg.

♪♪♪ Nicky was by this time very tired and she was just sitting on a brick, just a foot away.

♪♪♪ Ridings: ♪ And I hate that you're gone ♪ ♪ And I hate that I don't wanna let go ♪ Dohrn: As the sharp tail bee went in, I was willing her, 'Nicky, Nicky, come up, get in your hole.'

But, um, she didn't.

You can tell if a sharp tail bee's been successful 'cause she'll come out with some pollen stuck to her tail.

[ Slow-motion buzzing ] ♪♪♪ Nicky went in.

It's possible she went in, saw that it had been parasitized, and thought, 'Ah, what the hell.'

She'd had a very successful nest-building life, so I didn't worry about her legacy.

She'd had a good legacy.

And that actually was pretty much the last time I saw her.

Ridings: ♪ I'm gonna build castles ♪ ♪ From the rubble of your love ♪ ♪ From the rubble of your love ♪ ♪ I'm gonna be more than ♪ Dohrn: After she left, I actually noticed that I missed her.

Ridings: ♪ Oh ♪ ♪ Castles ♪ ♪ From the rubble of your love ♪ Dohrn: I had no idea that I was going to get so involved, if that's the word, with an individual insect.

Ridings: ♪ You ever thought I was ♪ ♪ You ever thought I was ♪ Dohrn: It's changed my view of insects altogether.

Ridings: ♪ Castles ♪ Dohrn: It's changed my view of the world altogether.

Ridings: ♪ I'm gonna be stronger than you ever thought I was ♪ [ Birds chirping ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪

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