Here’s what happens when 50,000 honey bees descend on a worksite in Edmonton

When a swarm of tens of thousands of bees chose a worksite near Stadium LRT station to call home recently, crews buzzed Dustin Bajer for a hand.

Bajer is an urban beekeeper and educator. When swarms happen, City of Edmonton pest control experts help determine who deals with the bees, depending on where they are.

“It’s not so much a capturing process as a convincing,” said Bajer of the technique to get the construction site bees out from under and around concrete slabs and into special bee containers.

“You show up with a house, you go, okay, bees, here’s this little home. You should really like it.”

It took some convincing. Bajer got the call during the noon hour on Friday, July 17. He wrapped up negotiations successfully after 10 pm on Saturday, after a few return trips to the site.

“Swarms are usually not that big,” Bajer said.

Closeup of bee swarm, July 17, 2020, before being relocated

Understanding a swarm

Bajer said the best way to understand a colony of bees is to not get caught up counting them.

“It’s easy to look at that cluster and say that’s 50,000 things, but, really, that is one thing made of 50,000 parts,” he said.

A colony grows in size as bees return to the hive after the nectar-gathering sorties. At some point, the assembly breaks in two, with one part staying put and the other, which is called a swarm, leaving in search of a new home.

“A swarm is a colony looking for a home,” said Bajer. “And what they’re looking for is a hollow cavity of some kind to move into.”

Tree trunk hollows, old chimneys, non-insulated garage walls, soffits and, like Friday, a pile of concrete are among their favourite haunts.

To get them into the box he brought to the site on Friday, Bajer brought a frame of honey “to sweeten the deal.”

Beekeeper Bajer used some honey “to sweeten the deal”

Rainy weather delayed travel

Most swarms happen in June, said Bajer. This year, however, swarming activity has carried into July, possibly, he said, because of the wet weather recently.

“Bees are coordinated,” he said. “This is getting a bit late, but they will wait for really nice weather to swarm.”

Many swarms happen within a kilometre or so of the river valley, Bajer said.

“That might be a coincidence, or they might be coming out of hollows in trees there.”

Interestingly, the swarms are composed of the old queen and the older bees. A new queen is raised in the part of the colony that stays behind.

In a way, it’s the parents that move out, Bajer explained.

“They split, the parents leave, the kids inherit the old location and the parent goes and finds a new home and starts the process over again,” he said.

Bajer in bee suit, July 17, 2020

Gentle, kind little creatures looking not to be homeless

Yes, Bajer does get stung every now and then. No, he doesn’t hold it against the bees.

“I get stung sometimes, but, generally speaking, they’re pretty mellow animals,” he said. “On Friday I was sticking my hand in there and I didn’t get stung at all from them. They’re not out to get you. Especially a swarm. They really just want to find a house.”

Bajer said he’s in it “mostly for the bees,” and not for the honey.

“They’re gentle, kind little creatures. I find them weird. I find them fascinating, and, so, for me, learning about the bees and what they are trying to do, and helping them do that has been my motivation.”

 Bajer convinced approximately 50,000 bees to relocate

“A nice vision to strive for”

Bajer suggested that bees can be guides for human beings.

“When they go out into the world to gather food, they make it better in the process,” he said. “When a bee goes out and it’s gathering pollen, it’s accidentally pollinating other flowers which means they’re going to make seeds which means there’s going to be more plants.”

Bajer asked the obvious question.

“What would that look like if I behaved in such a way that by me going out and interacting with my environment, it’s made better, like a bee? It’s a nice vision to strive for.”

Video

Take a look at Bajer in action in this short video:

Thanks for watching and reading. If you see a swarm, please call 311.

Editor’s note: For now, the bees are staying at Bajer’s place while he makes sure they stay healthy before they’re safely relocated in the spring. Pic at top of post shows Bajer’s first pass at convincing the bees to relocate, as EllisDon workers look on.

Bees in bridge housing