England - late 1980's
Case 1 - Late in summer, went into one of the old brick outbuildings adjoining the cottage. They were an ex-laundry and a bakery from long ago when the `big house' ruled there. They were not cheerful places, being draped in huge cobwebs with large vigorous spiders, so didn't often visit them.
Maybe the muted buzzing sound drew me. In one shed the cobwebs hung down in my face, but there was a circle swept on the dusty floor, still being made by a large bumble bee which was too exhausted to fly but was still booming around the floor, occasionally tangling with the webs.
The largest webs were around the dark corners, and a great gray spider would advance in a rush, sometimes almost grappling the bee. But each time it would wrench free, to buzz across the floor and soon tangle another web - and face the rush of another monster.
Admiration of the bee's `bravery' made me help.
Grabbing some shards of seed box and potato bags I scooped up the bee and made for the door.
Was talking quietly by then - because had found long ago that the human voice calms some social insects: bees and maybe butterflies etc.
Out in the yard, in a corner protected from the breeze, put the dusty / bedraggled bee on a protruding brick where it might recover in the afternoon sunshine. Had no great hopes for its survival at this time of the year but went to find it some food.
Brown sugar seemed suitable - so dripped a few drops of water on a spoonful of demerara until it was almost liquid, then took it out to the bee.
She'd started to clean off the webs and dust but still seemed disheveled, weak and slow.
Moved her to a fence-top in full sunshine, where I could place a large drop of liquid demerara before it. After a second or so she extended a beautifully coiled black tongue to the brown blob and began to feed.
Feeding took some time and was interspaced with grooming, until she began to look brighter, and even seemed a bit larger.
She eventually drained the whole globule and maybe more, and seemed to be enjoying her wing and body grooming.
She finished feeding, finished grooming then, without any change in tempo, went into spasmodic movements.
Dismayed I watched, then began to realize that her movements had a rhythm and repetition that looked like a dance.
This must have lasted for half a minute or so, with quite a bit of stamping and nodding.
Finally she stopped the dance, lifted her wings several times, then, fresh and gleaming, lifted off and droned away to the south, flying in a straight path over quiet flower-beds - seemingly assured of her destination.
I wished her luck and then almost forgot the incident.
Case 2 - Some years later, about ten miles to the west, besides a road in Wales. Sitting in the yard reading a book when a small bumble bee walked into the yard from the road - from the west - in an uncoordinated manner.
It was not full-grown and seemed damaged; the left wing was small - perhaps torn.
Remembering the other bee I put it in the center of yard and got a spoon of liquid brown sugar for it.
Again the coiled tongue unrolled and the small bee fed, taking about half of the liquid during twenty minutes or so.
Again this bee groomed herself in between feedings and began to look much more assured as she fed.
As details of previous incident had been mostly forgotten, it was a shock to see the same stamping and nodding start again.
Eventually the bee walked away to the bushes where she may have found shelter to recover from her injury.
Bees are social animals - as we are - and seem to communicate in two ways:-
On the primitive level, attack signal and mating signals are sent by pheromones or scent.
On a higher level bees communicate by movement and sound - in researched cases of the honeybee conveying a great deal of information to colleagues by what is called dance
Observations show that a lone bee finding food does not perform a ritual dance, but if the bee is helped to food by another bee, then it does go through the ritual. It seems the only difference is the bee's awareness of the presence of a benefactor - a giver of food.
Was that a ritual dance in the accounts above? An attempt to say "thank you" to a human, as if helped by another bee?
Would be interested in any similar experiences, or any use of the `voice-calming' mentioned above
Later update on bees - 9 Dec. 2005
"Bees can recognize human faces, study finds"
Later 2 Jun 2011
`Honeybees exhibit a vertebrate-like emotional state'
"Is the only challenge in the world to be greed and viciousness?
Is the only satisfying power the power of the ascent over men, the only dream, ambition?
And must the alternative to greed, evil, ambition - be only sluggishness?"