Earlier this summer Flora Martinez and visiting grandson, Marcelino, noticed an unusually large number of bees flying around a small pinon tree near the Martinez home on Oak Park Drive just off Little Bear Drive. As they watched curiously, the bees drew themselves into a ball which attached itself to a limb about four feet from the ground and hung there: a solid mass of living bees protecting the queen in the center with layers and layers of their own bodies. Well now, most of us know that periodically bees leave, for whatever reason, an inadequate hive home and swarm – looking for another – but what does one do when they demonstrate an interest in moving in disconcertingly close to your front door?
Lots of questions jump to mind. What are they doing here? Is this a potentially dangerous situation? Was this to be their new home? This last Flora was not inclined to encourage. She immediately began a telephone quest; the neighbors, the Division of Wildlife, and the Fire Department didn't know what to do. Finally, Carol Amato, at the Health Department in Trinidad told her that although she didn't know either she would find out. She devoted the following day trying to find someone somewhere with experience in this matter: someone who would know how to send the bees away. The thought that the bees might be Africanized honey bees – or killer bees – was a disturbing thought. And since these bees are steadily advancing into more areas of the country, at least Flora wanted assurance that they were not that variety.
Carol located a former beekeeper in Aguilar who said she would come and get them and keep them if they proved to be honey bees. (She didn't explain how she would do this, so if you are curious you must do your own research.) She went on to say that the bee swarm would only remain about three days then leave of their own volition. She explained that when a bee colony decides to move they weight themselves down with all the honey they can carry, which keeps them from flying very far from the old hive. Then they must stop and rest and feed on their stored honey before they move on again.
For the next three days the bees hung tight, with dozens of them flying watchfully around the ball. They didn't seem to be aggressive and paid scant attention to the attention they were receiving.
When Carol decided to drive up to see the swarm for herself it was the third day that the bees had been at their descanso. (Descanso is Spanish for resting place. For you old Bare Facts readers, I just can't resist the idea of adding a "Que Significa.")
As she and Flora were standing outdoors watching, the ball suddenly began to come apart and the bees en masse took flight to the south taking Flora's problem with them. It seems it was just a matter of patiently waiting out the industrious insects who knew what they were doing all along. Now we wonder where they have established the new hive. Certainly the abundance of wildflowers this year will allow a healthy food supply for the coming winter. We wish them well.
A day or so after the bees had flown off, Flora discovered a few malingerers flying around the site where the ball had hung. She sprayed them with an insecticide and collected the bodies for the Health Department. Carol sent them to Colorado State University at Ft. Collins for identification. It took several weeks for the results to get back to Flora. From DNA studies it was determined that the bees were a variety of honey bee other than the dangerous Africanized honey bees. Happy ending for bees and Ranch residents alike.
I did little research about bees and can't vouch for the accuracy of the statements relayed to Carol by the beekeeper. I only assume they are accurate. If you have further facts or first hand experience about swarming bees we would be interested in hearing from you as an add-on to this article.
Authors note: I spent time several summers working with a beekeeper, going with him to his hives scattered throughout the Rio Grande Valley in northern New Mexico. It was a most wonderful wildlife experience. We wore protective hoods and gloves (some beekeepers don't) and taped our pant legs closed at the hem for bees like to find an opening to climb up. They get trapped or crushed and a painful sting is the result. Occasionally we gently smoked the bees to deter them although my beekeeper didn't like to do this often. We "fed" the weaker hives in the fall by pouring in a solution of honey and water, a supplement to see them through the winter. Using a special hive paint we painted the hives, which are divided into detachable sections called supers. We removed the honey-laden vertical combs hanging in the supers to take home where the honey is spun out in a kind of centrifuge. It was sometimes necessary and always fun to pull out a comb and look for the queen, essential to the success of the hive.
On one occasion, by looking cross-eyed, I discovered a bee on the inside of my hood - we both were looking out. Does "a bee in her bonnet" come to mind? It had found a small opening and crawled up and in. I had never been stung and didn't know how my body would react. I had a dubious opportunity to practice steely control over my instinct to rip, duck, and swat (and other verbs). My mentor had me slowly and calmly walk with him away from the hive (Bees are alerted by sudden unexpected movement.) where he carefully helped me pull off the hood, the bee and I much relieved as it flew away. It bee happy ending number two.
That's not a pine cone you see in that tree...