Take a 1953 Buick Super—my grandfather drove one—coil a gasoline station pump hose under the hood, glue a patch of Velcro on the trunk door, and attach a set of cellophane wings to the top—the kind you see in 19th century English books on faeries, not the feathered ones you see on angels or, more recently, on lingerie models. What you have is a modern sculptor’s approximation of a deluxe, eight-cylinder, 120 horsepower, Dynaflow bumblebee.
No yellow and black convict stripes for these flying bandits. If they have a yellow patch on their front grill, they are likely to be Bombus vosnesenskii, California’s most common bumblebee. But if they are like Model T Fords—made only in shades of black, anthracite, licorice, or tar— they could be the close cousins of bumblebees known as carpenter bees.
Bumblebees zoom like World War II fighters—they can hit ground speeds of almost 35 miles per hour—but they can hover like a Huey helicopter And while bees buzz and hummingbirds, well, hum, bumblebees rev their engines like Harleys.
Bumblebees are the workhorse pollinators of the orchard. They fly from just after sunup to well after sundown—perhaps keeping even longer hours than honey bees, which I rarely see after sunset. To warm up their engines before taking off on chilly mornings, they shiver for a few minutes. Once airborne, bumblebees can convert even weak sunshine to heat while the furry shawls on their backsides helps retain the warmth. When it is cool out, bumblebees use their built-in heaters. And if temperatures get too hot, they reverse the airflow to cool their engines.
I don’t know how many miles they get to the drop of fuel, but they make frequent stops at all the diners and dives across the orchard—the Purple Sage, Hot Lips Salvia, Meyer’s Lemon, the Mandarin Club, the Avocado Grove. Instead of a soda and an order of fries to go, they fill their tanks with nectar and stuff their take-out bags with pollen, mixing it up as they go along.
If insect-size bumblebee nose art was painted below their cockpits, I am certain we would see bumblebee pin-ups sporting names like “Santa Pollinator,” “Blossom Belle,” and “Orchard Queen.” Wouldn’t it be great if there was one called “Fairview Frankie”? “Frankie” is a nickname for Frances, a name that means “free.”