Bearing no small resemblance to the more common bees of the southern lands, most Burnbees - their actual name being nearly unpronouncable to anyone not raised to the native language - are perhaps half an inch long at their largest size, living in nests burrowed in the softened earth around the roots of the Fireleaf ferns in a hive arrangement, with an average of one nest per ‘grove’ of the ferns. Generally a burnbee swarm will claim an area of a quarter mile in every direction as their territory, and defend their nests ferociously.
The burnbees change colors by the season, going from a white-and-grey albino kind of shading during the winter months to a dark grey-brown hue during the warmer months, with their bodies coated by a fine kind of fuzz that grows from the chitinous shells. There are actually three ‘types’ of burnbee, although workers are the ones usually seen by those passing near the groves of ferns.
The workers never grow longer than half an inch, grow two glossy wings, and bear no sting. Instead, their bodies contain two hollow pouches they fill by draining the pockets of the Fireleaf, directed by a keen sense of smell to avoid accidentally mixing the liquids. They gradually absorb the liquid and mix it within their tissues, allowing them to remain warm and capable of flight during the cold months of the year, as well as warming the hive with the heat from their collective mass. The only real defense that a worker burnbee has is that most animals instinctively avoid them after one encounter of biting or otherwise killing them - the small bodies of the workers contain just enough liquid at any given time to make them unpleasantly hot, although only one freshly laden from a fern has enough of the heating fluids to actually cause injury.
Soldier burnbees, or Firewasps as visitors call them, more closely resemble wasps than their brethren. They also drain the liquid of the ferns to keep themselves warm, but they also have a special hollow glad at the base of their sting where they can quickly mix all the remaining liquid in their sacks and inject the mixture through the sting into a victim. Firewasps keep their sacks relatively full, and smashing one bare-handed is just as likely to burn the attacker as being stung by one is.
The last type of burnbee is the queen - a large, bloated, grub-like creature that rarely moves from the depths of the nest, fed a continual diet of fern fragment and the rich scarlet honey the workers produce from the soft inner material of the leaves of the ferns. Her only defense is the depth of the nest - always as deep as the ferns have sunk their roots - and the hundreds of workers and soldiers willing to sacrifice themselves to rpotect the hive and the queen. there is only one queen per hive, and on the occasions that a new larva shows signs of becoming a queen, a clusters of workers and soldiers gather it and depart to find a new, unoccupied grove to create a new nest.
Burnbee honey is a thick scarlet substance, somewhat waxier and thicker than the honey of the southern honey bees, made from a composite mixture of the soft pulp inside the leaves of the ferns, small doses of the heating chemicals of the ferns, and stillborn eggs produced by the queen of the hive. The entire mixture spends several weeks sealed within sealed cavities in the depths of the hive, where the temperature is still low. Temperature more than a few degrees above freezing will ruin the production of the honey, creating a vile scarlet sludge that often drives the entire hive away from the grove from the sheer repulsive stench. Many ‘uncolonized’ groves of ferns are actually abandoned as the ferns slowly absorb and recycle the fouled organic substance.
Burnbee honey is prized by natives of the region for the rich flavor and slight warming sensation it gives.
Fouled honey is occasionally used to drive a hive of bees away, and can be used to drive off predators, as the stench from even small smearings of it is absolutely horrid. However, this also means that the one using it ends up horribly nauseated.
Fifty or so burnbees, captured by some method and kept fed with the chemicals from the fireleaf fern, can make a reasonable fireless heat source for a small room, although most burnbees die within a week of being taken from the hive.