Once spring had arrived, our three friends – Rascal, Tola and Pola – decided to set off on a trip together. One morning, Rascal was sitting on the grass, looking around anxiously for Tola and Pola. He had been waiting a long while, so he passed the time by juggling a small bottle full of thick green liquid. When Tola and Pola, both out of breath, finally arrived, he greeted them with a grunt. ‘Well, it’s about time!’
‘Oh, what is that?’ asked Tola, pointing at the bottle.
‘I got it from Tyk. We should test it, apparently,’ explained Rascal. Tyk the snail was a friend of our trio whom they had recently got to know. He was a versatile handyman and a passionate inventor.
‘Tyk tried to make ecological fuel for his wooden cart from plant juice. He reckoned that just one drop would be enough for the cart to run the whole spring and no impurities would go into the air. But it came out as something else by accident. He said we would see after we drink it.’
Curiosity won over distrust. Tola, Pola, and Rascal closed their eyes and drank from the bottle. Some interesting things started to happen! It was like someone was wringing them and tickling them and then boom, they leaped up into the air. When they looked at each other and looked around, they realised that all the thick pointy branches around them were actually blades of grass and that they were each as big… as a cherry stone!
‘Tyk has made a wonderful mistake! It’s a shrinking potion!’ said Tola, the first to come to her senses.
A ‘buzz, buzz,’ rumbled suddenly next to them, before something strange landed a little way off. It looked like a furry helicopter. They sat still and hoped to pass unnoticed, but the creature looked right at them, so they were able to inspect it closely. It had long colorful fuzz jutting out from its whole body: black on the head and chest, bright orange on the tummy and bum. It had two pairs of see-through wings, big black eyes and two black horns. After some time, the creature hesitantly came closer to them.
‘Good day! Excuse me, I am a little bit shy. I am not used to so much company,’ said the creature.
‘And who are you exactly?’ asked Pola boldly.
‘A bee,’ answered the offended newcomer.
‘But you look different to other bees,’ insisted Pola. ‘And don’t tell us that you are not used to having company. There are thousands of you in the beehive after all.’
‘Oh no,’ laughed the bee. ‘I do not live in a beehive. I belong to a breed of wild, solitary bees and we don’t live in big swarms but we build small houses for our own little families. I’m a mason bee, mason bee Zdenka. My children and I survive by eating sweet nectar from flowers. And pollen too. Look at my belly brush.’ Zdenka pointed proudly to her orange stomach. ‘I collect pollen thanks to that. It is a slog I can tell you, the number of flowers I have to visit before I have enough.’
‘But you pollinate a lot of flowers, right?’ asked Pola.
‘That’s right. I like the nectar and pollen from apple blossom the most. And all those trees that I gather pollen from in the spring are full of apples in the autumn.’
Zdenka explained further: ‘I gather pollen for my children to eat as they hatch. I prepare a room for each of them and put a sweet treat, a pollen bun with sweet nectar, in there.’
‘Yummy!’ the three drooled unintentionally.
‘And what does your house and its rooms look like?’ asked Tola.
‘Well,’ mumbled Zdenka. ‘I don’t actually have a house right now because the tree trunk I lived in was chopped down by a carpenter and taken away. Anyway, excuse me, I’ve been so busy chatting with you that I forgot that I was flying to our bee assembly. Every solitary bee has huge concerns about living and food. That is why the assembly was called. We are going to try to solve our problems. Do you want to go with me?’
‘Well, sure!’ they shouted in unison.
‘We were just about to go on a trip,’ added Tola.
‘The assembly is nearby on a big apple tree, but I have to warn you that, as soon as we get there, you should hide and stay hidden,’ said Zdenka. ‘Solitary bees are peaceful and we only sting in exceptional circumstances, but we don’t like it when other people meddle in our business. Besides, a lot of us haven’t eaten for ages; anybody would be mad about that.’
Pola took Tola and Rascal on her wings and they flew with Zdenka.
The big apple tree was churning and buzzing like… a great bee assembly. They sat on a strong branch near a rock and took cover behind a huge leaf. As they started to look around, they saw the widest variety of bees that they had ever seen in their lives. There were tiny bees and big bees, some of them were rounded, others thin; fuzzy bees, shiny bees, multicoloured bees, bees with long horns, with short horns; whatever kind of bees you can think of were buzzing all around them.
Then Pola noticed that similar looking bees were sitting on branches together.
‘Yes, each branch belongs to a different allied family. It is marked with their sign, something that is specific for them, and it always lies on an apple tree leaf platter on their branch,’ whispered Zdenka to them.
And Zdenka was right: on one leaf platter lay a mound of sand, on another a mound of clay, on another were circles bitten out of the leaves and on another branch lay the fuzz from a plant.
‘Some of us build our nests using sand and others with clay. Some of my relatives strew the chamber for their children with circles from leaves and others build chambers from flowers’ fuzz.’
The bees presented all their complaints to the chairwoman of the assembly. The chairwoman was a huge, metallic, glossy violet bee who sat in the hole, littered with soft, mouldering wood, that had been left by the fallen branch, as she carefully listened to the problems of her relatives.
‘That is our chairwoman, the violet carpenter bee,’ pointed out Zdenka, continuing to listen to the proceeding assembly.
‘There’s nothing to eat in the meadows! When the dandelions fade there are no other flowers that we can drink nectar from!’ yelled one fuzzy, ginger bee.
‘That is because the grass is still cut! As soon as the flowers blossom out, whoosh! Suddenly the whole meadow is mowed! Then we don’t have enough time to collect pollen and nectar for our children! And we are hungry too! If only they left at least a tiny piece of meadow for us! My children can’t eat anything other than nectar and pollen of bellflowers,’ joined in a little black bee with slim yellow stripes on her bottom.
‘And mine from buttercups!’ screamed another one.
‘We want the ordinary clay field trails back! Now that the tar and concrete and asphalt cycle paths are everywhere, we don’t have the space to dig our nests!’ complained bees with thick yellow brushes on their feet.
‘Well, it’s true that our kind is not very picky when it comes to habitation,’ joined in some bees that looked just like Zdenka. These were the mason bees. ‘Empty snail shells are enough for us, but how often can you find one?’
‘Our frie…’ began Rascal, who was unable to listen to the complaints anymore. He had almost jumped out of the shelter, keen to do something about the bees’ difficult situation. But Tola, fortunately, caught him in time and pulled him back. She quickly plugged his mouth and angrily whispered to his ear, ‘don’t you dare show yourself to them and if you’re thinking about Tyks’s snail shell, it’s already taken if you didn’t notice, Tyk is living in it!’
Rascal bowed his ears with shame and stayed quiet – sometimes he is very hotheaded.
‘But we would be grateful for any empty space,’ continued the mason bees. ‘We like bulrush straws, holes in walls, or corridors and chambers made by bugs in old trees. However, there are not many of those trees right now since they’ve all been felled. We can even do well with just a slot between beams on a roof.’
‘So move into my doghouse!’ shouted Rascal and he jumped right into the middle of the assembly. This time Tola’s attempts to hold him back were pointless.
The assembly went quiet in a second and thousands of bees glared sinisterly at Rascal as they pointed hundreds of stingers at him.
‘We are here too and we won’t give you away, Rascal!’ screamed Tola and Pola as they jumped in next to him.
The tremendous silence could have been cut with a knife. The trio already felt like the stings were being jabbed into their feathers and fur. And then, out of nowhere, all the bees started to laugh! An owl, a dog and a cat about the size of cherry stones are not something you see every day!
When the chairwoman finished laughing, she rang the gong to call for silence and asked sternly, ‘who are you and what are you doing at our assembly?’
So the trio told her all about how they wanted to go on a trip, about the diminishing potion made by Tyk the snail and how they had met Zdenka the mason bee.
‘Listen, Rascal, you offered your wooden doghouse for us to live in and that is not a bad idea at all. There would be space for a couple of us,’ hinted the carpenter bee on the branch where the European orchard bees were sitting.
‘Thank you, we will be modest occupants, you can rely on us, we won’t destroy your house, we will live quietly in the slots under the planks and you would never know we were there,’ the bees promised Rascal.
‘Um, but what about the rest of you? What about the food?’ asked the chairwoman desperately.
‘I have an idea,’ said Pola. ‘During my night-time ramblings, I found an old orchard that no one is caring for. There are plenty of old trees and the hollows and passages are ready to be moved into. The grass is not cut very frequently and I think that there is a compacted clay trail nearby,’ she added with a wink to the bees with yellow brushes on their feet. ‘If you want I can lead you there.’
Pola took Rascal and Tola on her wings again, and the whole bee assembly soared into the air and flew alongside. The bees loved the place immediately. They said thank you and started to work. Some of them set off to inspect the hollows and to find ones suited for building their nests, while the hungriest ones flew straight to the sweet nectar on the flowers.
And our three friend Tola, Pola and Rascal? They went to find Tyk so that he could make them something that would turn them back to their normal size again!
The tale was prepared within Kids for Eco-Action Project, co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.