Monday, July 11, 2011

Know Your Local Bees: A Cautionary Tale

A while back, Mark got a call about a swarm hanging on a sign.

Given our positive experience at Kudos, he waited until I got home, and we loaded up with minimal gear for him and none for me.  Dressed in a skirt and sandals, I had no intention of helping, but would take pictures for the blog.  Easy enough, right?

Our confidence should have been our first clue that, according to Murphy's Law, we were doomed.

We arrived at the site to find a good-sized swarm hanging out on both sides of a big sign.  I jumped out of the truck, took a couple of photos, and got back in, where it was air conditioned.  I have told you we live in Mississippi, right?  All those ideas you have about the heat and humidity are TRUE.

So while Mark put on his gear and set out a box for scooping bees into, no need for a smoker, I settled into the No Sweat Zone, expecting a five minute wait.

Oh, how ignorance is bliss.

As Mark began spraying the bees with sugar water, rather than falling into the cup or box as they are generally wont to do, they got agitated and took to the air.  That should have been a sign.

Next, as he began scooping them into the box, they resisted -- rising up out of the box and attacking him.  Sign #2.

Soon the air was filled with angry bees, and I could see him flinching as some of them found their target. Confused, he walked toward the truck to confer with me. Next thing I knew, bees were pelting the truck like The Attack of the Killer Popcorn, popping against the windows and roof.  Sign #3.

Then Mark went back to try again.  Crazy.  You should have seen the people at the convenience store across the street looking at him, clearly thinking the man was nuts and had no idea what he was doing.

This swarm acted like no swarm we'd ever seen.  Mark walked into some nearby woods, chased by bees the entire way.  They persisted in their attack on the truck for several minutes.  I was horrified, but at least I was protected!

Eventually Mark came up to my window, which I refused to roll down. I may be dumb, but I'm not insane. I shouted for him to get his stuff, and get in the back of the truck so I could drive him home. He was *not* getting into the truck with me! I'd had enough, and so had he.  Especially since he hadn't tucked in his shirt -- after all, it was just a docile swarm -- and they'd stung him all around his lower back, up to where his veil ties criss-cross.

He clambered into the back of the pick up, with several bees still hammering him.  I took off down the highway, determined to blow the bees off of him and put some distance between us and the killer swarm.  He pounded on the roof to get me slow down and hollered something at me, so I pulled over. 

He wanted to go back and see what they were doing.  Unbelievable.  When we returned, there were still plenty of bees on the sign and in the air -- we hadn't made a dent in the population.

Our conclusion: this was no ordinary swarm.  This is, in fact, a hive of bees nesting inside the cavity of the sign.  Mark had attempted to storm a hive with a huge population of bees bearding on the outside of the sign due to the heat.  Their reaction was perfectly normal for a hive under attack.

A week later, our guess was confirmed by a colleague of mine who needed a ride home.  As we passed the infamous sign I told her our story and she said, "Oh, the neighborhood bees?  They've been there for YEARS."

Moral #1: Don't believe everyone knows what a swarm is when they call. Be a savvy beekeeper.
Moral #2: Be prepared for surprises and light your smoker. Every. Single. Time.
Moral #3: Observe the bees' behavior and act accordingly.

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