Bees caused a buzz at Town Hall on Sunday morning

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If you were in downtown Huntsville Sunday morning (June 19), you may have noticed something unusual: a swarm of bees outside of Town Hall. As unusual as it was, however, it wasn’t anything to be concerned about.

A swarm is natural bee behavior that creates new colonies and allows bees to propagate. When a colony gets too large, the queen leaves the old hive taking about half the colony with her to search for a new home. The rest of the colony remains behind with a new queen. (If the word swarm makes you think of ‘killer bees,’ don’t worry – those are Africanized bees and they don’t live here.)

The vacating swarm will come to rest nearby, often on a tree branch, while scouts seek out a new location. That’s what happened just before noon when some 4,000 bees descended on a tree behind the statue of Tom Thomson in Civic Square.

It was a small swarm – a colony has approximately 50,000 bees so a departing swarm could be upwards of 25,000 strong. Even still, it can be an alarming sight to have thousands of bees flying about, as harmless as they may be. A bystander called in the OPP. The OPP called beekeeper Craig Nakamoto.

The above video, courtesy of Doug Profitt, shows a small swarm of bees outside the Algonquin Theatre on June 19.

On May 27, Nakamoto installed two beehives on top of the Algonquin Theatre as part of a sustainability project with the Town of Huntsville. (Read about it on Doppler here.) He won’t know for certain that the swarm came from one of those hives until he does his weekly inspection today (June 20), but says it’s likely given its small size. It’s unusual for a new hive to swarm, he says, but not unheard of.

When he arrived at Town Hall, “nobody seemed to be very worried.  A lot of people walked by without even noticing.”

He then set about collecting the bees. To this writer, that sounded akin to herding cats but Nakamoto says it’s quite simple.

He donned his beekeeper suit – standard practice when working with a colony – and set up a ladder below the clump of bees. A solid thump on the branch made most of them release to drop into a plastic bin waiting just below. Nakamoto then poured them into a hive box on the ground and waited until all the bees were in the new hive. “As long as the queen is in there, they all eventually go in the box. I had a frame of honey in the hive box to make it more attractive, although I think that was unnecessary.”

(Clockwise from top left) First, Nakamoto collects the bees in a plastic bin; then he transfers them to a box for transport; once the swarm is in the box, Nakamoto takes them to his bee yard on Aspdin Road. (Photos courtesy of Craig Nakamoto)

Both in his suit and before and after in a t-shirt, he says none of the bees tried to attack him. “When they are swarming they are pretty much harmless.  They are normally only aggressive when they are defending their hive, but a swarm does not have a hive.”

About 25 minutes from the time he arrived he packed up the hive box and took it to his bee yard on Aspdin Road, with no evidence left that thousands of bees had paid Tom a visit. Had he been alive, one would hope he’d have been pleased.

Nakamoto will continue to monitor the rooftop hives through the summer before taking the frames within to a local school for students to harvest the honey.

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5 Comments

  1. Barb Matthews on

    Fantastic job Craig. What an experience for the children, hopefully get more people producing honey, can never have enough, keep up the good work.

    • Mary Lynn Hogg on

      Hi Susan, Honeybees are not like wasps. They are not aggressive and usually do not sting. They are not interested in people, they are hard at work, pollinating our vegetation, bringing pollen and nectar into the hive. We have had hives in our Calgary back yard for 5 years and I garden every day right beside them. The only stings I have received are ones that are from my error not the bees’ fault.
      We LOVE having our honey bees and bringing people into our yard to teach them all about the colonies.

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