Tag Archives: insects

Bees at Home


Living on the Guadalupe River in San Jose, California, we have had a variety of unwanted creatures move in with us, including: squirrels, mice, and recently, roof rats. We discovered the roof rats because they eat the outside of our lemons and the inside of our oranges, then leave the cored or peeled remainders hanging on the tree or all over the walkway under it: nasty! Apparently, the smart rodents eat citrus fruit to counteract rat poison.

Our latest move-in is a hive of honeybees under our roof tiles. A neighbor who is a beekeeper looked them over and said that the hive is healthy, not aggressive, and doing no harm at the top of the house. He advised leaving the insects in place and said that we would not have problems with squirrels or roof rats in the future because the bees would drive them off. He also observed that our garden (especially the roses) was perfect for bees – and offered to put two hives on our riverbank and split the resulting honey with us. We are looking forward to becoming beekeepers ourselves!

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Images by Katy Dickinson Copyright 2012

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Bees and Democracy


I have been reading a fascinating article in the March 2012 Smithsonian Magazine called “Hive Mind” by Carl Zimmer. The article describes the work of Cornell University biologist Thomas Seeley, an expert in honeybees, swarm intelligence, and collective decision making.

The decision-making power of honeybees is a prime example of what scientists call swarm intelligence. Clouds of locusts, schools of fish, flocks of birds and colonies of termites display it as well.

Seeley and his colleagues have discovered a few principles honeybees use to make smart decisions:

  1. Enthusiasm: passion in the bee communications dance
  2. Flexibility: decaying number of dance repetitions is tied to the value of what the dance is communicating
  3. Quorum: silencing lower value dance communications as the number of higher value dancers rises to a decision threshold

Seeley draws comparisons between how a honeybee hive makes decisions and how both the human brain and a democracy work:

Both swarms and brains make their decisions democratically. Despite her royal title, a honeybee queen does not make decisions for the hive. The hive makes decisions for her. In our brain, no single neuron takes in all the information from our senses and makes a decision. Millions make a collective choice. …Groups work well, he argues, if the power of leaders is minimized. A group of people can propose many different ideas – the more the better, in fact. But these ideas will only lead to a good decision if listeners take time to judge their merits for themselves… Groups also do well if they’re flexible, ensuring that good ideas don’t lose out simply because they come late in the discussion.

Just because animals do something does not mean it is also appropriate for people. Nonetheless, comparing human systems to patterns in nature presents both in an interesting context.

Image Copyright 2009 by Katy Dickinson

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Spiderweb Lunch in Los Gatos

Los Gatos spiderweb . Los Gatos spiderweb

The town of Los Gatos is full of cat pictures and puns. Many local businesses’ names refer to the mascot of the town (Los Gatos means “the cats” in Spanish). The original cats were the indigenous cougars. We live in San Jose but have been in Los Gatos frequently of late, visiting the talented Sumi’s Tailoring (for my daughter’s wedding dress), and eating lunch at the excellent California Cafe in the Old Town shopping area.

Waiting for lunch last week, I noticed a quiet neighbor: a spider had strung her web across the fence next to my chair. Spiderwebs are tricky to photograph. I was lucky to be there when the light was glinting from the delicate strands. Near the restaurant, we walked by a vintage car which had been parked under its cover long enough to have its rear tire become a trellis for a flowering weed.

tire flowers

Images Copyright 2011 by Katy Dickinson

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Local Honey

Made by Bees Lip Balm

One of my Huawei co-workers is a Beekeeper (apiary specialist) who sells honey and bee products in Santa Clara, California. Mark arrived early to help me set up for the TechWomen mentoring program’s entrepreneurship workshop, hosted at Huawei last week. In his truck, he had a hive of newly-caught honeybees, still sleepy from the cold night. He also sold me some Natural Honey Lip Balm, which works well and smells lovely. Mark can be reached at

Mark Paterson

464 West Campbell Avenue, Campbell California 95008



honey bee hive bucket

Images Copyright 2011 by Katy Dickinson

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He will live at our house…

Gilroy the dog by Katy Dickinson Gilroy and Tino by Katy Dickinson

Growing up in San Francisco, my brothers and I had far more pets than you might think. From time to time, we had a rescued baby crow in the breakfast room, toads and frogs in the tub, iguanas and bunnies in the basement, a boa constrictor in the bathroom, and cats wherever they pleased to go. My mother’s motto about all of this was from the Dr. Seuss book One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish:

Look what we found in the park in the dark.
We will take him home, we will call him Clark.
He will live at our house, he will grow and grow.
Will our mother like this? We don’t know.

At my home in San Jose, we have a more modest menagerie (2 dogs, 2 birds, and a cat) but since we live on the Guadalupe River, we are often invaded by hoards of squirrels, flocks of finches and other songbirds, geese, ducks, and hawks, weird horsehair worms, opossums, raccoons, lizards, and Jerusalem crickets, among others. Our new puppy Gilroy is delighting in all of it during his first week with us. His adopted-big-sister Redda is bored with squirrels but Gilroy still barks at them joyously.

alligator lizard by Katy Dickinson horsehair worm by Katy Dickinson John, Redda, Gilroy

cockatiels by Katy Dickinson

Images Copyright 2011 by Katy Dickinson

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Autumn in the Silicon Valley

We are having a hot Autumn here in the Silicon Valley. It hit 92 degrees Fahrenheit in San Jose today. We had a tiny rain last week but it may be months before the first real storms blow in. As always, the plants are confused as to whether to bloom or turn colors for Winter – so, we get both together. Right now, it is a balmy evening and the crickets are chirping outside.

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Images Copyright 2010 by Katy Dickinson

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Visiting Katydid

When I was little, one of my Grandfather’s nicknames for me was “Katydid”, after the long-horned grasshoppers or crickets (in the family Tettigoniidae). Last week, I noticed a bright green insect half as long as my finger wandering around on the top of our laundry room door here in Willow Glen (San Jose, California). The katydid seemed as interested in me as I was in her…

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Images Copyright 2010 by Katy Dickinson

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