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Observations on the Bee Traps





My father had taken it upon himself to order bee traps as the latest swarm of carpenter bees had been irritating to him, boring holes in the home and pestering him when he was working on the landscaping. He boasted about how the trap was supposed to resemble the carpenter bees’ nest with a clear plastic tube at the bottom, where, once they got in, they couldn’t climb back out. I felt very worried about his purchase as I was concerned that it might make the bee population dwindle even further and we’d be a contributing factor. Don’t want the death of the bees and subsequent death of humanity on my conscience.  

But I never openly protested and watched as my father put up two traps on our outdoor porch where the bees seemed to congregate the most. I’ve always had a fear (resistance) of opposing my father as he’s stubborn as an ox. Once an idea enters his head, he’s steadfast and won’t listen to anyone else. In my gut, I felt as though there had to be some grander, more dramatic reason for why I never voiced my discomfort with the traps. I’d assume an appeal to authority resulted in me keeping my mouth closed and letting him potentially hurt the environment.  

Though they aren’t as ecologically important as their cousin, the bumblebee or Bombus dahlbomii, carpenter bees, are still major pollinators for both open-faced and shallow flowers. Some of them pollinate flowers that bumblebees don’t usually pollinate. They’re not seen as endangered; however, their populations have been observed to be steadily declining. Bee traps and pesticides are the contributing factors with the latter being the biggest contributor to the effects on the carpenter bee population. Male carpenter bees have no stinger, unlike female bees but they’re docile and rarely sting. They’re the only species of bees to be observed to exhibit both social and solitary nesting practices.  

The first few days, there was nothing. The traps swayed in the wind but no bees. (An obstruction) 

I went down to make lunch, one afternoon when outside the kitchen window, I saw one little black body lying still inside the plastic tube.  Its small, amber wings were spread wide, possibly from a vain and panicked attempt to escape. It had likely tuckered itself out and succumbed to the situation. I went towards the other trap at the kitchen backdoor and found two lying together, each ligament holding on to the others. (Doomed lovers) Wings tucked to their thorax, stagnant antennas, and big black eyes—no life. 

I began anthropomorphizing the bees, imagining humans in their places. The first one by the kitchen window was Joseph Augustus Zarelli, “The Boy in the Box.” He was found on the side of Susquehanna Road, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1957, in a cardboard box serving as a bassinet. Archeologists found a pair of skeletons near Mantua, Italy, embracing each other for over 6,000 years, popularly known as the “Lovers of Valdaro.” The scene of the bees reminiscent of that ancient, eternal romance.  

A day passed, and there was a dead bee being held by another bee. Furiously fluttering its wings to show their grief. It was like Jackie Kennedy holding her husband’s head in her lap, repeating, “Jack, Jack, can you hear me?”  

I don’t know how to properly explain my excitement over the trapped bees. My fascination and subsequently brutal imagination became a drug. Some weird, indescribable rush flew through me with my observations on the trapped beings. There wasn’t a power dynamic other than man versus nature but I wasn’t the one who put the traps up. Though I didn’t do anything to prevent it, I was complicit in their deaths, and worse, I was watching them. I never once took them down even though I easily could have. (Cowardice?) My mental state was all over the place. I was struggling with so many things. I was angry at myself, justified or irrationally so. I had resentment for myself so grand that I would buckle under the pressure. I engaged in sordid, unpleasant sorts of methods to deal with the mania and grief, never satiating me, always looking for something more.  

Perhaps that was why. Why the bees' confusion was in a way a materialization of my inner machinations. I projected my thoughts of turmoil onto the bees, seeking. Never opening up to anyone close has stuck me in this echo chamber of self-deprecation, negative voices, and harsh criticism, alienating me from humanity. Some things should not be said to another person about your feelings, especially family and friends. They could disregard your pain or see you as a freak show. (Worse, institutionalize you) My pets were living their best life so I couldn’t relate to them in any way. Always happy, rarely dealing with any hindrances to their seemingly everlasting joy—something I envied a bit. The trapped bees were where I saw myself. No matter what they did, it seemed that they could not escape, stuck at the bottom. 


After getting done with a job interview where I foolishly thought I would get a call back (Would happen again and again during the summer), I went home. My mother forbade us from entering the house through the front door, explaining that it was reserved for guests and the back door leads to the kitchen which has a hardwood floor so if we track dirt or whatever natural debris there could be, it’s be easier to clean up. This meant I had to walk from the back porch to reach the door.  

Climbing up the creaking steps, one of the bee traps standing right by the door. (Empty) Curiously, I stared at it, examining tiny details like the leftover fuzz from previous prisoners. The tube was starting to show small scratches on the inside like the bees were trying to crawl out.  

It reminds me of immurement, an old method of corporal punishment: the act of encasing or burying someone alive to spend their last days stuck and starving. The Roman Empire utilized it against women who broke chastity vows, encasing them in the catacombs with brick and mortar. Archeologists have found artifacts of them with prominent scratches on the bricks facing inward.  

Lost in imagination, I heard a faint vibration to my left. Turning my head to find nothing, the buzzing grew louder on my right side. Panic flooded my brain, filling every crevice and crease. I feared that I would be surrounded by vengeful bees on a mission to make me suffer for the sins of my father. As I scrambled to the door, the rubber sole of my shoe got caught on a gap in the wood planks, and I tripped, hitting my head on the window of the back door. A pulsating pain shot through my head. I could see the mark where it had landed. No crack in the window or my skull. Trickles of blood from my nose landed hot and slick on my fingers. I swung and slammed the door behind me.  

I went to the kitchen sink, wetting paper towels to clean blood off my hands and plug my nostrils. All while trying my damnedest to control my breathing. I could feel my heartbeat in the tips of my ears.  After collecting myself and bringing my heart rate down, I went back to the window by the door, surveying to catch the perpetrator. 

There, on top of the trap, sat one solitary bee. It walked from one end to the other, multiple times as if confused. In its head, (I’d imagine) it recognized that the trap resembled a nest but noticed something off about it. The texture was too smooth and it couldn’t feel any vibrations, indicating that no one was living in the faux hive.  

Like a voyeur, I observed the bee, hypnotized by the tiny being that had thrown me into an adrenaline-fueled dash. It waddled towards the hole, its antennae feeling around. I watched it go in. I could’ve done something, smacked the door or window to startle it away. But I didn’t. Telling this now makes me feel slimy. (Corrupt and abhorrent) As if I had seen the death of a person but never told anyone, a burning secrecy in my chest that continued to eat away at me until I was fully consumed by guilt. The reality of the situation hadn’t hit the bee yet. It looked as though it was trying to find a member of its species, a recognizable face. It crawled around, trying to claw its way back to the hole. It saw the blue sky, the wispy clouds. An image of hope. It slipped and fell on its back. In a flash, the bee was flying, crashing against the plastic walls, seeing the outside yet unable to reach it. The bee was in a frenzy. The small insect knew instinctually what this meant. It wasn’t ready. It still had fight, but it wouldn’t result in freedom. A fight in vain, a thwarted chance to get back to life from before. Stuck in bondage and all I did was stand and watch. 

People regularly kill insects and act like it’s not a big deal and move on. A regular person can roll up a newspaper tightly and smash the minuscule lifeform without any bother. It’s as easy as putting on their shoes. (Mundane, unremarkable) It never takes up any space in their minds. I felt as though I’d let this bee die when the option to save it was available. I killed it by not intervening. My panicked run from that bee led to it sitting on the trap. It makes me think of Sonderkommandos, a work unit in the Nazi death camps composed of other Jewish prisoners who would guide those stepping off the trains and to the gas chambers. They were not killing them personally but leading them to their demise. If they refused to do as told, the Nazi soldiers would shoot them. A conundrum of moral ambiguity. My overanalyzing brain is telling me contradictions. “You’re responsible for the bee’s death!” “Your dad is the one who carries the death on his hands.” It brings me distress, a little lifeform dying in such a manner as a giant looming figure nonchalantly watching it die. My heart beats fast, my temples have begun perspiring, and my vision becomes unfocused. What is my role in this?  


It was a hot summer day, ninety-one degrees with the sun high and no humidity. Waking up, I immediately thought of the traps and went to check on them. I found a mass of tiny insect bodies, piling on each other in the cramped tube. Bodies covered the bottom of both traps. An opaque shadow was cast on the deck below. Some of the bees were still alive, and the trap by the backdoor of the kitchen held a frantic bee buzzing about. Its wings beat so fast that there was a blur on both sides of its thorax. Emerging from the mass of bodies came another live bee as though it was trying to pull the frantic bee down. (An effort to console) “Stop, stop! There’s no point. We’re stuck.” I envisioned a bleak scenario of a hopeless situation with two unfortunate souls stuck in place, surrounded by the dead.  

Both of these traps had other carpenter bees swarming outside of them. Bees were stacking on top of each other as if the swarm was trying to strategize a plan to get them out. A plump one of their brethren was over the hole, not stepping in but vibrating. Gazing upon the horror of the situation as they realize that there is no way of freeing the others without getting trapped as well. (A futile effort) 

Female carpenter bees have a division of labor: foraging, nest making, egg laying, and guarding the hive. An entire generation of carpenter bees live in one hive, so they heavily rely on each other to live. After researching, I came to a harrowing realization about the scene. The bees were struggling to free the trapped members. (It’s a family) The bee was effectively losing their entire family, powerless and with the creeping notion that they’ll starve to death, ending their bloodline. A pitiful demise of a family. (No dignity) 


One day, we had family over. My dad was so busy preparing for everyone’s arrival that he forgot to empty the traps filled with corpses. We ate outside, charcoal smoldering in the grill, the smell of mosquito spray on our skin, and spilled beer soaking in the planks. It was lively as always with them, and my niece stared at the bee trap that hung above her highchair. Wintery blue eyes on her cherub face transfixed on the round bodies.  

My dad noticed her fascination and decided to play around. There was a latch at the bottom, releasing the tube from the trap. After pulling it, he dumped the little bodies onto the porch deck. A barely audible thud sounded from each of the dead as their bodies hit the wood. My niece started crying. My aunt gave a scornful stare to my dad who was buckling over from laughter, holding his gut and slapping his knee. Other family members stared; he shrugged it off. He daintily brushed them off the deck, down to the rocks. 

I peered over the rail, my eyes attached to the black dots amongst the granite rocks. Compulsion was the only way to describe the feeling. Those bodies were screaming at me to stare. They resembled a photo I saw of the Vietnam War, bodies of villagers lying motionless on the jungle floor, a burning hut in the background. Napalm scorching the trees as soldiers march past, a regular sight to them, paying no mind. (Carnage) 

Sitting back in my seat, my mind was occupied. The individual thumps of their carcasses, the casualness of my dad’s actions, and the reaction of my family. My niece had a koala grip on my aunt, burying her wet, snotty face in her mother’s shoulder. An air of disapproval pointed to my father, who was seemingly clueless as to what the anger was about. 


My father’s a hunter (still is), he grew up on a farm, and he regularly sees dead animals. He’ll bring home a buck he shot on a three-hour hunt, a small pile of dead geese in the bed of his white truck. Skinned squirrel carcasses, covered in salt, and submerged in ice water would line our outdoor fridge. My dad would tell stories of his childhood and one that stuck with me was the story of the stray cats seeking refuge in the barn. My dad had a favorite, a male striped cat whose name was told to me but forgotten. The cats made nests in the piles of hay and came back every night, where they went, no one knew. In one instance, he said a cat gave birth to a litter of tiny babies with bits of grain and dirt on them, their mother dutifully cleaning them. Eyes closed, meowing for their mother. He’d play with them, letting them walk to him, carrying one in the crook of his elbow when riding a tractor. One day, he opened the large barn doors in the early morning. (I can see the orange-purple sunrise) He walked to the hay pile that the momma cat and kittens claimed as home. They weren’t there--bloodied clumps of fur and red stains on the yellow hay. A hole was dug under the rotting wall behind the cats by some feral dog, (a common occurrence my dad remarked, and found the kittens; the canine had eaten them. My dad said he’d sometimes catch the momma cat in the open fields or between the stalks of corn. It never went back or came anywhere close to the barn. I was perplexed at the calmness of his voice. You’d expect a mournful tone but there was none. “It’s life,” he said, sipping his Budweiser. (Paid no mind) 

Now, this isn’t me making it out that my dad is in some way unique in his view. Hunting was part of my childhood, too. My stomach would fill with glee and curiosity when my dad rolled into the driveway after a hunt. Memories of petting the wet, matted fur of a doe, the blank stare in her eyes, helping my dad when he was dressing the body. I’d give him the pots and pans he would ask for to put away certain cuts, the heart and the legs. He’d save the legs to throw them out in the woods, giving the coyotes an easy snack. I gained invaluable knowledge of deer from this, and my love for animals began in these moments. I’ve hypothesized that this experience was the underling motive for why I never protested my dad putting up the traps. We both have an appreciation of the natural living creatures that surround us, and even in death, we see value to them. The difference is, I think, that my dad didn’t see any value to the carpenter bees, alive or dead. It was my role to care for them, at a distance. 


Summer came to an end; my father was done with his expansion on the landscaping efforts. The air cooled to the point that flying insects were no longer a nuisance. Leaves were starting to have spots of yellow and red replacing the chlorophyll. A chilly breeze passed as he unhooked the bee traps and took them to the attic. He placed them by his fishing poles, untouched in years, housing spiders and dead moths. (Cobwebs were as thick as lint) I went up to the attic. I wanted to take a close inspection of the traps without the threat of flying insects. The top surrounding the hole had some dirt and pollen on it. My dad’s thumbprint when he took them down. Scratches decorated the entirety of the tube. 

The scratches reminded me of tales of grave robbers in New Orleans, opening caskets and finding scratches on the inside. The dead would have chipped nails, caked in dried blood. Three months those traps were up and with a death toll easily reaching a hundred. How many generations of carpenter bees must’ve passed away in that clear chamber? What were those last moments like, knowing that you couldn’t save yourself or your loved ones and all that was left to do was to wait? I sound like a tree-hugger (Like that’s a bad thing). With the news being filled with macro-level environmental catastrophes, the traps felt more intimate and palpable. It’s the easiest way for me to truly grasp humanity’s impact on the environment and its laissez-faire attitude to small lifeforms and downplayed importance to our survival.  

This experience led me to ponder the concept of “pests” and humanity’s perception of which animals deserve life. I’ve become more vigilant in discussions pertaining to the environment and the value of all animals. I’ve seen posts on various social media sites people urging others to not kill insects that “look scary,” pointing to their ecological significance. I’ve begun looking through Wikipedia articles on bugs and arachnids. I’ve been learning about everything from the tiniest of mites and beetles to the goliath bird-eating tarantula. (A terrible name for it rarely seeks to eat birds, furthering the othering of the invertebrate) When you look up insects or bugs on Google, automated ads for exterminator companies are the first results you see before anything else. I hear phrases like “shark-infested waters” and get livid. Those waters are the sharks' homes, what do you mean they’re infesting it? It’s like saying an apartment building has a human infestation. It’s a cruel way of observing wildlife in its environment. In various media, (you see this in a lot of media marketed towards children) bees are portrayed as this swarm of pain, a giant cloud of tiny legs crawling on your skin, stinging you till you pass away. (Macaulay Culkin in My Girl) I know that the rationale behind these depictions is to keep children safe and to leave bees alone, but this has a ripple effect. This detaches insects and the like as living things. The archetype of the ant bully, little boys who gain a hobby of regular disrupting ants and their colonies, to play around and kill them. They carry the notion of bugs/arachnids as the creepy crawlies of the everyday world until they’re adults. With this flagrant misunderstanding of the value of these animals comes environmental denial. They can’t see the importance of the small living things, the creatures that have been here since the first lifeform on Earth, the first step in the food chain, the most crucial part of the cycle of life, so how can you expect them to understand the global climate crisis? Do you think they know the harm of littering, of the gas emissions from their ’73 Ford truck? Will they get to a point when they realize that corporations lobby for certain politicians who vote against green initiatives, putting more money in their overflowing pockets while they impend the extinction of humanity? It’s no longer a guess by some lab rat--the climate crisis will happen. It’s getting to a point of no return. The small things like bees, mosquitos, spiders, beetles, etc. are the last line of defense, and we keep chipping away at it.  


Summer is in a few months. I wonder if I’ll gather the courage by then to object to my father putting up the traps. 

  • Gavin C. Hosto is an English major with a Creative Writing and Anthropology minor in his senior year. He plans to be a screenwriter after graduating and when SAG-AFTRA makes things better over in Hollywood. His life is horror movies, and he wants to thank Professor Vogrin for encouraging him in his writing endeavors. 

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