the bee post

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Thursday, August 16, 2012
bee swarm
Here they are - the long promised (since June) bee swarm pictures! This was their first swarm in a rhododendron that grows near the driveway. They were at perfect eye-level and pretty much just minded their business once they got into swarm-in-a-tree formation. They did freak out the mailman, but he was a just filling in for our regular intrepid, super nosy letter carrier. (For the record, I like her and if I ever were trying to solve a Nancy Drew-style mystery on my street, she's the first person I would talk to.) ANYWAY. Nosy Intrepid (what better traits for a detective, really?) showed me the undelivered mail from the day before which had "bee swarm" scrawled on top of the stack. It was written all wobbly, like he either a) had bad handwriting b) was terrified c) was writing on a stack of mail while walking. All of them could be true, I guess!

bee swarm
Swarm close up! Some quick internet study taught me that swarming is how a hive reproduces. The Old Queen takes off with half the hive and leaves the rest of it to the New Queen. The swarm usually flies somewhere between 50-200 feet away from the original hive to start and then sends out some scouts to find a new permanent home. They can end up miles away!

They're very docile while swarming like this - they're really only interested in setting up a new home and not really too fussed about a mailman walking by or someone sticking a camera in their business.

I can't get over how smooth the edges are - there are thousands of bees in this thing, and they're not just hanging out! They were making a little wax thing in the middle.

There was a lot of bee drama at this point in our story - I assumed (rightly, wrongly, who knows) that these bees came from the 8-12 hives in the big yard behind the back fence. They might have come from the neighbor's house two doors down, but I deemed the newer, closer, more numerous hives to be the likely culprit. (although can you really call a bee hive a culprit? They're wild creatures in man-made boxes -- they do what they want.) I ran over to the house in question to figure out what was going on. They were super nice, but the bees were not theirs! They let some guy keep bees on their property because bees are nice and they have a lot of things to pollinate. I called Bee Guy's number, but heard nothing back for a day and a half. I knew I had to do something, because they were starting to draw attention from people walking on the sidewalk, PLUS what if they flew away and ended up in someone's wall and that theoretical someone called the exterminator. I would feel so guilty!

So I called a Bee Thinking, a company I found online. There are lots of Craigslist people more than happy to come get your bees, but I liked this place because they had hours (I knew someone would answer the phone) and it just seemed like one less decision to have to make (which of these 50 Criagslist beekeepers should I call, etc.). It was high bee swarm season, so they were busy and it would take a few hours for them to get to me. Matt asked for me to call them back if the swarm took off before he got there.

At this point the bees had been in their spot for at least a day and a half and I didn't think they were going anywhere, but I'm no beekeeper! I thought it was unlikely, but said sure I'd call, etc. I never thought I'd have to make that call, but an hour or so later I heard this noise and saw that the bees were agitated and on the move.

Have you ever seen a swarm in the air? It's weird and wonderful and not a little scary - a large buzzing cloud that moves. I think the scary/slightly creepy part comes in because it's an INTELLIGENT cloud putting all the individual bee brains to simultaneous use for the collective. The hive mind for real.

 I called Bee Thinking back and said "OMG they left" which was no big deal to them as they had a lot more hives to pick up. (they were nice about it, though)

But then....

I noticed that they were swarming across the yard in a different tree! Here they are in the air. It was hard to get a good picture because I was standing bee swarm adjacent and a small, primitive part of my brain was FREAKING OUT. They don't bother me in a tidy shape hanging from a tree, but I didn't really want to stand in the middle of that many in flight.

but then they started settling in. (I took this through a window from inside the house.)

I called the bee people back and told them what happened. Back in the bee queue.

slightly different, looser shape than before.

The bee guy and their new temporary hive. He just shook that branch down into the box and said there were probably 12,000 bees in there. Twelve thousand!  The ones you can see on the edge of the box were rubbing their wings together furiously, releasing pheromones to let the hive members who were out scouting know where they were. Sadly, there were stragglers who didn't make it back in time to travel with their comrades. Matt said they might return to the mother hive, or they might just fly around until they died.  What they did is fly back to the site of the original swarm. They huddled together around the wax comb that they built before and over the course of a few days they died. Maybe there weren't enough of them to stay warm? I don't know. That part was sad, but overall it was a fascinating experience. I have a much better idea of what to do should it happen again, and the odds are good it will happen again. I'm okay with that!
2 comments on "the bee post"
  1. I'm so glad you took pictures! This was really interesting Jen. Maybe your mailman's handwriting was shaky because he is allergic to bees. You didn't find him all puffed up, passed out on the sidewalk, did you? (In my imaginary allergy, he doesn't die, because the meter reader came by and happened to have The Antidote on him! I sanity checked this with Teddy & Gizmo and they agree)

  2. No, he didn't die or pass out! Nosy Intrepid (the regular letter carrier) would have mentioned that FOR SURE. Besides, those bees wouldn't have bit him unless he stuck his head in the middle of their cozy little swarm. I'm sure if he had, it would have gone down as you imagine: lucky meter reader w/ striped syringe marked BEE ANTIDOTE in his meter reader kit.

    Teddy & Gizmo have hidden depths of knowledge!


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