* a Barricklow of Very Little Brain
Monday morning, after I left the youngest at the corner on her way to the bus stop, I noticed a strange pile of…something…near the mailbox. It looked as though someone had dumped a very large scoop of pelleted pet food in the middle of the sidewalk. When I got close enough to see the “pellets” more clearly, I realized they were bees. Hundreds and hundreds of honey bees, curled up tight and motionless, clinging to each other in a mass.
A swarm, frozen. (Not literally, but temperatures were in the upper 30s, so they were quite immobilized by the cold.)
The bees weren’t the only ones effectively immobilized. It being early and I not being particularly brainy at that hour, I didn’t do what I should have done, which is scoop the mass into a box and move it off the sidewalk. I did think to drag some lawn chairs and compost buckets out to block the sidewalk, however, so the neighborhood’s avid walkers wouldn’t stumble into the swarm. (I was actually more worried about the welfare of the bees than that of the walkers.) Being also heavily under the influence of cold medication, I went back to bed, resolving to check on the bees once the sun had hit them in a couple hours.
My morning-fogged brain had reasoned that they would warm up, wake up, and fly off on their business. When I checked them around 10:00 a.m., they were moving alright, but mostly moving around rather than moving on. Scout bees would spiral up from the mass every few seconds and take off in various directions, but an awful lot of them remained on the sidewalk. I recognized the tactical error of failing to move them while they were easily moved and realized it was time to involve someone who actually knew what they were doing.
I put the word out on Facebook and soon heard back from a friend who had the phone number of a local beekeeper. By the time he got to my house, it was around noon, and about half of the bees were off scouting for new digs for the colony. The pile of bees was now more of a puddle.
The beekeeper was a little disappointed, but I explained that there had been twice as many bees when I’d started looking for help. He was somewhat molified when he confirmed that there was a queen among them, though she was very young and not very large. (That’s her in the black circle below.)
He placed a lidded hive section, loaded with a few comb frames, over the puddle and tapped on it. (That apparently encourages the bees to climb up; I suppose they want to see what the heck is making that annoying sound.) After a few minutes, he lifted the lid, and sure enough, bees were clambering over the box’s interior. The young queen herself had climbed right to the top, so he carefully put the lid back to prevent her from escaping.
He hung around as long as he could to give returning scouts a chance to join the group, but had to allow himself time to drop the new bees off at home before returning to work. It’s too bad he couldn’t have left the box there for the rest of the day, as several dozen scouts returned throughout the afternoon and seemed lost without their queen and their sisters. A number of them collected on a branch overhanging the sidewalk, which leads me to think that the swarm had settled in the tree for the night but somehow lost their collective grip because of the cold and dropped to the sidewalk.
While waiting for the beekeeper, I spent a delightful half-hour sitting on the sidewalk, watching the bees. The sound of them was soothing, and their furry golden bodies glowed in the sun. It was fascinating to watch them interact, always touching one another with feet or antennae, coming and going on their marvelous and mysterious (to me) business.
I was so relieved when the beekeeper agreed to take those who would come and to do what he could for them — it’s quite late in the season for such swarms, and they will need a good deal of help to get through the winter. I hope with all my heart that the young queen not only survives but does well for him. As a wild bee, maybe she’ll bring some new traits into his hives that will improve them. May she live long and prosper.
(Bonus points if you can find the queen in the last photo.)