To bee or not to bee?
That is the question Fiona Presly faced last spring when she noticed a wingless queen bumblebee in her garden in Inverness, Scotland, one blustery afternoon.
“To bee,” as it happened, won out, and now Fiona’s photos and videos of her sweet relationship with Bee — as she named her — have gone viral, racking up more than 4 million views on social media since she published her observations in a story for the Royal Entomological Society earlier this year.
Entomologists told Fiona that the bee likely lost her wings to Deformed Wing Virus, one of several viruses that threaten bees globally.
“I love that the world is now talking about bees — they are extremely important, as are all of our pollinators,” Fiona, a 55-year-old library assistant, tells PEOPLE. “No bees, no us!”
On that chilly day in the Highlands, she coaxed the bee to climb onto her hand, then carefully carried her inside and made a nest of soft black cotton inside a plastic box covered with a domed mesh cover. She also added a feeding station filled with sugar water, a small pond for bathing and a miniature paper ladder so that Bee could climb out whenever she liked.
Then, a couple of weeks later, Fiona built a larger home inside a wooden crate and filled it with heather, anemone and sedum — flowers she’d noticed that other bees appreciated.
Truth be told, she says, “I didn’t think of it as bonding at first — bees are intelligent and I figured she knew that I was a source of food. But I did start to feel responsible for her. I noticed that Bee would physically perk up when I came into her presence if she’d been alone for a while. Basically, if a creature moves I will talk to it, so I talked quite a bit to Bee. I got the sense that she really was quite grateful for what I did.”
At the beginning of last May, Fiona put Bee back into the garden for a few hours and was devastated when the bumblebee disappeared for three days.
“I thought that was the end — I’d done my best,” she tells PEOPLE. “But then she emerged, looking a bit disheveled and thirsty, so I was delighted to give her a drink of sugary water from my finger.”
Bee was soon crawling onto Fiona’s nose to clean herself, and she enjoyed snuggling in the warmth of her hand. Because a bee’s life span is short but sweet, Fiona didn’t expect that her wee and fuzzy pet would live for more than a couple of weeks.
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“I’ve always loved bees and I’ve rescued many in my lifetime, but I’m a realist,” she says. “She should have died in the height of summer when new queens emerge, typically at the end of July or early August. I was surprised to have her with me for five months.”
In September, Fiona noticed that Bee moved more slowly and didn’t eat or drink as much, “so I was prepared,” she says. “On September 15th, she was in my hand when she passed. I felt a tinge of sadness, but I knew it was a privilege to be able to have this special bond with her.”
Bee was buried in the garden close to a favorite patch of heather, which Fiona visits often. She says she feels humbled to have had a relationship with the queen bee.
“People have a bond with their dogs and cats,” she says, “and I’ve now proven that you can also have a relationship with an insect. I think the world has enjoyed a nice story amongst all of the doom and gloom. I spent a wonderful summer with a very special bee.”