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Tales of the Hive - Lions at the Gate

By xC0000005 in Culture
Sun Jul 16, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: Honeybees, Beekeeping, Stinging Insects, Radioactive Mutant Canibals (all tags)

From my deck, in the afternoon sun I can see honeybee wings glint as the bees come in for a landing at their hive. Late summer is always a busy time, but this day as I looked a storm of gleaming wings hung over my colony. I went down to investigate, walking through the maze of bees, wondering if this was a swarm forming. On the landing board of the hive I saw a wrestling mass of honeybees dragging something, fighting, and stinging. I knew then why the colony had taken to the air - it was under attack.

Vespula Vulgaris, the common wasp, is the lion of the plains that honeybees roam in their search for nectar. The wasp commonly called a "yellow jacket" is not much larger than the average bee. The primary difference is in how they are wired. Wasps are predators, and behave as such. Today they attacked like a pack.

About once a year I get a link to the "Giant Asian Hornet" forwarded to me, along with the note that 30 of them can kill off an entire colony. That's impressive, and frightening, but not as much as you might think. The Asian hornet is a giant, but the common Bald Faced Hornet (itself actually a yellow jacket) will set up a ferry chain on the landing board of a hive. A few of the wasps wait, killing the defenders as fast as they come. Others ferry the bee bits back to the nest. The bald faced hornet is tiny by comparison, but no less effective.

Though they appear similar, and most people refer to them as bees, a quick inspection shows that the wasp is about as much like the honeybee as the Volkswagen beetle in my driveway is like a Ferrari. The wasp is streamlined with smaller muscles for its wings. The heaviest thing a wasp will carry is a caterpillar or bee abdomen. Their stingers do not come out with the first sting and their venom sack carries enough venom for several discharges. Their carapace lacks hair giving little for a victim to grasp. Their jaw structure is unchanged from when the wasps were larva - these are the jaws of a killer, a meat eater. Bees have a long tongue with which they slurp nectar. Wasp mandibles are capable of delivering a bite to go with the sting, of chewing rotten wood, and even mortar.

Disposition wise the common wasp or yellow jacket is unpleasant. While a queen-less hive can be unpleasant, and even European honeybees can be vicious, the wasps carry the hard wired predator aggressiveness. You don't need to provoke a wasp to be stung. Gloves aren't any real protection (I was stung this morning through gloves by a yellow jacket).

Wasps are often considered the psychotic members of the insect kingdom, but really they are a warrior clan. Their colony is driven by a structure as well but in it the survival of the adult is tied to the survival of the brood. Female wasps feed the brood chewed insects. The brood in turn feed the adults a clear sweet liquid. Wasps are driven to hunt by hunger as much as instinct. In the late summer and fall when the queen wasp slows her laying, worker females are driven to forage for sweets. Nectar, Soda, syrup, any sugar will do, and they are aggressive, because they are literally starving to death. In those times, the honeybee colony stands out like a neon lit buffet.

The honeybee is built for different purposes than the wasp. It is built to lift and carry, to care for brood and work its home. It dies if it stings a mammal (but not other insects). It is not prone normally to attack unwarranted. Its design makes it both an able worker and a perfect meal for the wasp. Wasps roam the blooms eating pollen from time to time but their aim is to find a flying meal. A lone bee on a flower will stand little chance against the sting and bite of an wasp, which will ride it to the ground. The wasps will tear the bee abdomens off, toss the still living head and thorax to the side, and fly off with the fat prize. When they can enter the hive, bee larvae will be pulled whole from the cell and chewed alive. Last the honey may be taken but not always. The wasp is a predator and the empty hive doesn't call to it when there are better meals to be had. This day the wasps have come in force. The price of admission to the hive is thirty thousand stingers, but each stinger is attached to a tiny snack. The benefits to the wasps outweigh the risks. The price of failure for the honeybees is the death of the colony.

This does not mean the bees are defenseless. A hive in two deep hive bodies has a population of at least thirty thousand adults. It can mount an impressive defense. Any wasp that goes deep into the hive will be balled, where the workers form a cluster about it and beat their wings. The resulting heat cooks the wasp but leaves the more temperature resistant bee alive. Wasps near the entrance will be attacked en masse, chewed, pulled, and stung. Denied food and under attack, the wasps will be driven back if the entrance to the hive is small enough. The tiny entrance creates a mass of defenders which denies the wasps a numerically fair fight. Soon the air hangs heavy with bees. These bees in the air are hovering, watching for the predators to rise from the hive. The smaller bee, normally prey, will brazenly attack the wasps in mid air, dragging them to the ground where others join in the beat down. The wasps will take what prizes they can and flee for the day, and in the evening the colony calms.

With sunset both wasp and bee retire to their comb. At sunrise the lions will roam once more and at the gates of the hive battle will be joined again. Only the first hard frost will bring a ceasefire to the war, killing the worker wasps on their comb and driving the bees to cluster in their hive.

The wasp queens will hibernate through the cold of winter until they wake in the spring and begin again to rally their forces. The honeybees will wait, raising new generations to survive the winter, ready to defend their home.


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Tales of the Hive - Lions at the Gate | 57 comments (45 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
glad to see this in the queue..+FP (2.40 / 5) (#2)
by dakini on Sun Jul 16, 2006 at 11:55:12 PM EST

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
YEAH- bees to FRONT PAGE!!!! (3.00 / 6) (#3)
by wampswillion on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:07:50 AM EST

[ Parent ]
ok, now WHO (3.00 / 2) (#44)
by wampswillion on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 07:20:20 PM EST

didn't want to see "bees" make front page?  a big wasp fan or what?  
really, wouldn't you all say that the one uniting factor we have here on k5 is our mutual love of the bee guy and his stories?  i think even baldrson likes beeguy.  

[ Parent ]
bee dude: want to have nightmares? (3.00 / 6) (#5)
by circletimessquare on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:10:59 AM EST

click this for pictures and horror movie video of GINORMOUS 6 foot x 3 foot yellow jacket nest

Massive Yellow Jacket Nest Forms on Couple's Property

Most of us have reached for the can of bug spray to put down wasps or bees around the house. But a Bulloch County couple has a bigger problem than that.

Rising up out of the water, it looks like another tree stump from a distance. But a closer look is enough to take your attention, and maybe your breath.

Hundreds of thousands of yellow jackets swarm in and around their nest on Shelley and Tony Roberts' pond. They can't believe it got so big so quick.

"I reckon it was a couple of months ago," said Shelley. "All it was was a little stump and we noticed what looked like mushrooms growing up."

It looks to be about six feet tall and three feet wide. No one's gotten close enough to measure.

"They're not aggressive," said Shelley. "We'll be out here fishing and they haven't bothered us."

Just about everything you read about yellow jackets says they burrow into the ground. No one around here's ever seen a nest on water, let alone a nest this tall.

When it started to grow, the Robertses wondered what the jackets were using for bricks and mortar. Then they noticed a change in their split rail fence.

"First of all, we thought the sun was bleaching our fence, but we noticed where the yellow jackets were landing," said Shelley. "They're eating the bark off the fence and they're building their nest with it."

They turn the wood to a pulp of sorts and build layer by layer, sometimes several inches in a week. While it may look like papier-mâché, Shelley says that's one piñata you don't want to strike.

Shelley and Tony plan to leave the nest alone until cooler weather when the insects calm down, then try to get rid of it. They do worry as big as it is and as many jackets are there, if they stung someone, it could be fatal.

Reported by: Dal Cannady

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

I say we nuke the entire site from orbit (3.00 / 10) (#14)
by fenris on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:24:19 AM EST

It's the only way to be sure.

[ Parent ]
by circletimessquare on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 04:06:05 AM EST


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
As we all know, the only way to kill the colony (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:32:48 PM EST

is to have a bitchy woman drive a hydraulic loader/primitive mech deep into the hive where she can do battle with the queen. That's the only way to be sure. And then you're only sure if the actors don't sign on for a poorely written third movie, and then a (to me) quite entertaining fourth entry. Nuke the site from orbit, kill the queen with a hydraulic loader, then gas the actors, writers, directors, and interns associated with the film. That's the only way to be sure.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
ALIENS!!! RIPLEY!!! (none / 0) (#32)
by circletimessquare on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 01:45:11 PM EST

Ripley: Lieutenant, what do those pulse rifles fire?
Gorman: 10 millimeter explosive tip caseless. Standard light armor piercing rounds, why?
Ripley: Well, look where your team is. They're right under the primary heat exchangers.
Gorman: So?
Ripley: So, if they fire their weapons in there, won't they rupture the cooling system?
Burke: [interjecting] Woah woah. Yeah, she's absolutely right.
Gorman: [turns round to Burke] So, so what?
Burke: Look, this whole station is basically a big fusion reactor...
[Gorman turns back to stare, horrified, at the screen]
Burke: ...right? So you're talkin' about a thermonuclear explosion and "Adiós, muchachos."
Gorman: Oh, great. Wonderful. Shit!

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
What are we supposed to use? (none / 0) (#52)
by Entendre Entendre on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 05:13:25 AM EST

Harsh language?

Reduce firearm violence: aim carefully.
[ Parent ]

I like to keep this handy... (none / 0) (#56)
by CmdrDoc on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 09:15:01 AM EST

For close encounters.

[ Parent ]
tell me about cake (1.08 / 12) (#6)
by Tex Bigballs on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:22:31 AM EST

I'ts a piece of cake to bake a pretty cake if the way is hazy you gotta do the cooking by the book you know you can't be lazy never use a messy recipe the cake would end up crazy if you do it by the book then you'll have a cake we gotta have it made you know that I love cake finally it's time to make a cake

Soundtrack (1.50 / 1) (#7)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:39:37 AM EST

My kids have been listening to that. For a real treatise on cake making, see Alton Brown's Good Eats episode on cake.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
+1FP. (2.00 / 4) (#17)
by creature on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 04:09:07 AM EST

I'm nuts about bees.

Sooo fucking cool (2.00 / 4) (#18)
by nebbish on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 09:29:41 AM EST


Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee

Klingon Wasps: The Warrior Clans (3.00 / 9) (#19)
by mybostinks on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 09:36:21 AM EST

definitely +1 FP. If you compiled these stories and diaries in a book I would purchase at least a dozen.

Thanks for the story.

Maybe sometime a story on the unique aspects of honey?

Off and on, (3.00 / 3) (#26)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 11:31:04 AM EST

I play with the thought of a book. Perhaps when I have more material.

Side note - you not going back to your old account? Or logged in for ease of posting to your current story?

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]

yeah I am waiting for the (none / 1) (#40)
by mybostinks on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:51:27 PM EST

comment posting to die down before going back to the other account. In particular the "ShittyStoner" comments/death threats.

I think eventually you will have enough for a book. Also, this is not tradebook material either. It has quite a good appeal to just about anyone. Start lining up an agent and when you find one submit sample chapters to them.

If it gets published, you won't make enough to quit the day job but I bet it would make for a nice first-class cruise.

[ Parent ]

disgusting how one gets those death (none / 0) (#43)
by dakini on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 06:54:54 PM EST

threats on a bloody puter and they dont even know you..like a spoiled kid..attention seeking ass...

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
[ Parent ]
cool (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by actmodern on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 10:17:15 AM EST

they'd make excellent lightsaber practice. rly.

LilDebbie challenge: produce the water sports scene from bable or stfu. It does not exist.
Do you do anything about it? (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by jasyoung on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 11:04:15 AM EST

You have a lot invested in the hive. Do you reduce the size of the entrance to make the hive more defensible? Can you use smoke or anything to get everyone to disperse? Also, who was winning?

Yes. (3.00 / 7) (#25)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 11:28:44 AM EST

I reduce the entrance size (actually already had). I kill the wasps I find on the ground wrestling with bees. I kill the nests, when practical, but I try to keep in mind that the wasps have a place too - just not around my hive. Yesterday the bees won. Each day is a new battle.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
if you have a pellet rifle (bb gun) (3.00 / 4) (#28)
by creative dissonance on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:28:09 PM EST

a good way to destroy the smaller nests is to muzzle-load about 20-25 rounds of the BBs, pump the hell out of the gun, and scatter-shot the wasp hives.

my buddy in high school had bad wasp problems, and this technique did them in every time.

[ Parent ]

From a distance (none / 0) (#53)
by SoupIsGoodFood on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 05:31:26 AM EST

I assume.

[ Parent ]
That depends (none / 0) (#54)
by xC0000005 on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 06:36:06 AM EST

on whether you got a morbid fear of death.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
+1FP, the bee's knees! $ (2.00 / 6) (#27)
by victorianWhore on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 11:33:12 AM EST

"Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings." - Ed Gardner
it wont stop the +1 (3.00 / 6) (#30)
by loteck on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 01:13:07 PM EST

but i was disappointed that this ended up being a wasp primer instead of you telling me what happened to your beseiged bees. you gave some hint in telling what will happen, but you didn't really mention what did happen.

Personally i would have gone for a flyswatter and joined the epic battle. Man and bee joining forces against the roving bands of starving, killer wasps. it's like culture meets creature.

its like, technology... versus horse.
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

The bees are fine, for this day. (3.00 / 7) (#31)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 01:24:10 PM EST

The wasps are gone. Many lie dead about the hive, but new hunters will hatch daily until the frost. I did wade into the thick of it, killing the wasps that wrestled on the ground (and more than a few of my bees at the same time, sadly). I also took the war to the wasps, killing three nests (and going after the big one). I live next to an electrical easement though, so the wasps have a blackberry thicket to nest in, to regroup in.

As I said before, the wasps have a place. Just not around my hive.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]

this is a battle of biblical proportions (2.60 / 5) (#45)
by loteck on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 07:39:43 PM EST

take a hint from modern politics. you need to scorch the waspanese earth until they return to you the 2 soldier bees that they captured.

bring in the tanks and missile attacks. i once wiped out a large wasp nest by sprayeing it with lysol and then running like a girl.

whether that last part is subtle symbolism in reference to israel/lebanon or just a silly anecdote, not even i know.
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]

Warriror metaphor seems inexact. (1.50 / 1) (#33)
by rpresser on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 01:57:21 PM EST

How about bees = gatherers, wasps = hunters?
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
Hunter clans (3.00 / 2) (#36)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:13:55 PM EST

at least human ones, have always had to be gatherers as well, due to dietary needs. (Gatherer clans also tend to be opporunistic hunters). Wasps are meat eating predators whose next meal comes at the cost of a battle. Thus I chose the "warrior" metaphor, though you are correct that it's not perfect. Note that wasps can and will eat each other as well. Watched a true hornet devour a yellow jacket a few days ago.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
metaphor seems to say (1.50 / 4) (#34)
by nostalgiphile on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:08:42 PM EST

The bees are like most people, whereas the wasps are like Republicans? (j/k. sorta).

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
I'm somewhat republican myself. (3.00 / 7) (#35)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:11:16 PM EST

Well, I used to be, before my party made me ashamed. Now I'm conservative in values, which sets me against most of my current administration. Small government, low spending, go to war when attacked, not because there's someone else to take down, etc.

The bees are communist.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]

+infinity (3.00 / 2) (#55)
by Zombie Stanislaw Lem on Wed Jul 19, 2006 at 12:10:36 PM EST

Thank you, Sir.

If you can call your self even "somewhat republican", "conservative in values", and yet can somehow find yourself willing to defend to the Death (or at least- to the Sting) a huddling hive of "communists"- if you can see value and good in their being and existing, even to the point of sharing your fortunes with them, then perhaps there may be hope yet, for the rest of us humans.

xC0000005, you are a hero.

I am much, much gladdened to know you, and deeply grateful that you find a home here in this Kuro5hin.


Zombie Stanislaw Lem

[note, any moderation or posts made on or after 01/04/2007 were probably made by the jerk/s who stole my account after I left.]
[ Parent ]

Not communists... utopian anarchists :-) (none / 1) (#58)
by JenniferForUnity on Wed Aug 09, 2006 at 01:47:48 AM EST

I have a hard time mapping insect societies to human societies.  Humans all basically have the potential to reproduce so our wiring "should" make us inherently hostile to one another.  That we cooperate and socialize anyway is like this cool bonus from the fact that our interactions work out with a positive sum.

Bees seem to me more like replacable components of a hive organism.  I know it's not like this is any great insight, but the individual bees are more like cells or tissue.  The reproductive castes are sexual organs and so on.

The best arguments I've heard for describing their actual decision making systems is a "utopian anarchy" in the sense that there's no bees who are "in charge" but every member is so "socially adapted" that they don't need social punishments or rewards to organize and coordinate their behavior.  Every bee just does what seems right to herself and their "characters" are such that this is always magically in the interest of the whole hive.  Magically as in "evolved to be the case because the unit of selection is the hive, not the individual"... but until you remember that, it sure seems like magic. :-)

[ Parent ]

Some fundamental differences. (none / 1) (#59)
by xC0000005 on Thu Aug 10, 2006 at 01:59:10 AM EST

The field bees, the oldest bees have more impact than any other on the actions of the colony - it is the field bees that supress other foragers from going out, and the field bees who most likely will kill the queen. As for punishments, a laying worker will be "handled" by the other bees if they try to lay while there are still open brood.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
Wonderful Story! Love those bees! (none / 1) (#39)
by Sandwormrum on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:39:29 PM EST

**Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.**
that sounds delicious (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by indubitable on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 02:52:06 PM EST

What kind of sick fuck doesn't want to roger some dude wearing a bear suit?

As usual (none / 1) (#42)
by tweet on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 03:17:09 PM EST

interesting and informative.  Thank you.

Not everything in black and white makes sense.

new reason to fear global warming: (3.00 / 4) (#46)
by circletimessquare on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 09:18:08 PM EST

http://www.al.com/newsflash/regional/index.ssf?/base/news-22/115307156230500.xml &storylist=alabamanews&thispage=1

Entomologist Dr. Charles Ray at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Auburn said he's aware of about 16 of what he described as "super-sized" nests in south Alabama.

Ray said he's seen 10 of them and cautioned people about going near them because of the yellow jacket's painful sting.

The largest nest Ray has inspected this year filled the interior of a weathered 1955 Chevrolet parked in a rural Elmore County barn. That nest was about the size of a tire in the rear floor seven weeks ago, but quickly spread to fill the entire vehicle, the property owner, Harry Coker, said. Four satellite nests around it have gotten into the eaves of the barn, about 300 yards from his home.

"I'm kind of afraid for the grandkids. I had to sneak down there at dark and get my tractor out of the barn," Coker said. "It's been a disruption."

Coker said he may wait until a winter freeze to try to remove the nest.

In previous years, a yellow jacket nest was no larger than a basketball, Ray said. It would contain about 3,000 workers and one queen. These gigantic nests may have as many as 100,000 workers and multiple queens.

Without a cold winter to kill them this year, the yellow jackets continued feeding in January and February -- and layering their nests made of paper, not wax. They are typically built in shallow underground cavities.

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Multiple queens (3.00 / 5) (#48)
by xC0000005 on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 10:58:09 PM EST

Is likely a genetic adaptation. Honeybees too sometimes setup multi queen hives (for reasons no one understands). It is thought that perhaps the superseded queen is not actually failing, and in that case, multiple queens lay. We'll see.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
[ Parent ]
by circletimessquare on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 09:24:19 PM EST


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

i have a solution (3.00 / 2) (#49)
by actmodern on Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 11:19:15 PM EST

find force sensitive bees and train them in the ways of the jedi. they'll take care of these super hives!

LilDebbie challenge: produce the water sports scene from bable or stfu. It does not exist.
[ Parent ]
may i be the one to say... (1.66 / 3) (#50)
by yonyonson on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 04:16:08 AM EST


Distribution of this memo is unlimited.
Sweet (3.00 / 2) (#51)
by Sgt York on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 05:29:55 PM EST

I could almost hear the war drums beating in the background.

Great read!

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.

Childhood memories of yellow jackets (none / 1) (#57)
by JenniferForUnity on Wed Aug 09, 2006 at 01:24:04 AM EST

This brought back two childhood yellow jacket memories...

First, I was about five when, during a hide and seek game I stepped on top of a yellow jacket nest.  Pain.  Screaming (it must have been from me).  The old neighbor I'd always been afraid of because he had a scary voice (later I realized it was larygectomy from throat cancer) came to my rescue within seconds.  He had my brother get my mom to drive me to the emergency room and held me up by one arm and hosed me off with the other.  I remember clinging to Mom in the car while another neighbor drove.  Somehow I didn't come away with a bee phobia or an allergy.  I never liked yellow jackets after that, but I wasn't afraid of them.  I liked the neighbor from then on. Mom, who has better memories of what actually happened, suspects he saved my life.

The other memory.  I was maybe 11 and at a BBQ we left out "the bee plate" far from the people.  The yellow jackets found their offering and were ferrying back and forth between it and their hive off in the forest somewhere.  Somehow I ended up staring at the bee plate watching one single yellow jacket try to steal some chicken.  She cut and cut and cut with her jaws until a piece was free but she was too greedy.  She kept trying to fly away with it and giving up to whittle a bit more of it.  Eventually, after cutting away like 50% of the load, she "staggered" (well the flying equivalent of staggering) away.

I had never realized yellow jackets were fundamentally different from "other bees" until I saw how directly carnivorous they are.

Tales of the Hive - Lions at the Gate | 57 comments (45 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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