Swarm of honeybees removed safely from LRT light in downtown Edmonton

Beekeeper Darrell Sopel attracted a small swarm of curious onlookers as he used a sugarwater-lemongrass-thymol spray—and his love of bees—to safely move 30,000 honeybees off an LRT traffic signal in downtown Edmonton. 

“It’s similar to the pheremones that the bees give off when they’re swarming,” said Sopel of the spray with which he coated three rectangular-framed combs he would scoop the bees onto. 

Scoop in enough bees, get them to attract others, manage to scoop in the queen, and the rest of the bees will follow, Sopel explained. 

“If I can get this box into the right position, they will walk right in,” he said. “From a distance, it looks like a bit of chaos, but they all orient and they all start crawling in.”

 In the end, it worked, but, bees having a hive mind of their own, not quite that fast.

Beekeeper Darrell Sopel used a bee pheromone-like scent to convince bees on an LRT traffic signal to change locations, July 13, 2022.

“They do not care a thing about you!”

The bees were first spotted on Tuesday, July 12, as they descended on and coated the LRT traffic signal near 100A Street and 102 Avenue. The LRT signal is on a portion of the Valley Line LRT. The new LRT line is in the testing and commissioning phase under construction. 

The bees made an immediate buzz on social media. Sopel heard about them from a friend in British Columbia, who shared a Reddit thread. On Wednesday, he got the call to move the bees to safety. 

The bees congregated there after the hive they belonged to had grown too large for them to grow. Led by a queen, a majority of the bees flew out and settled on the lights while other bees scouted for a permanent location for their new hive. 

“When they go into swarm mode, the two priorities are to find a new home, but their first priority is to protect the queen,” said Sopel. “As long as I am not acting aggressively toward the bees, acting slowly, they’re going to be pretty calm. As long as you leave them alone, they do not care a thing about you.”

Some of the bees removed safely by beekeeper Darrell Sopel, July 13, 2022.

Bee welfare

The welfare of the bees was a big topic among those who stopped to watch Sopel do his delicate work. 

“Are those bees going to be safe? Is that person a beekeeper?” asked one of the onlookers, who was told, yes, the swarming bees were in the hands of a dedicated beekeeper with a plan to relocate them to a nearby farm with plenty of canola and water. 

“They like being in a location where they have plenty of food, plenty of space and just be able to survive,” said Sopel. “That’s all they want to do.” 

Word that the bees would be treated like royalty was sufficient for the person who had stopped to ask the question.

“That’s good,” the woman said. “We have to take care of the bees.” 

Sopel back downtown to check for any remaining bees, July 18, 2022.

The next day, Sopel was back to take care of bees that had returned to the light, and then again on Monday, July 18, to make sure the queen bee was no longer there.

“I got the majority of the bees last week,” he said. “Today it looked like there were just stragglers.”

Here’s a lookback at Operation Bee Relocation: 

More on honeybees

Mike Jenkins, the City of Edmonton’s Pest Management Coordinator, explained that honeybees are kept for their benefit to crops and for the honey they produce. But, he said, they are actually an introduced species. 

“As a European import, they tend to prefer European plants to collect pollen from, helping to spread many European weed species,” said Jenkins. “They have benefits as pollinators, but probably not as important as our native species of bees, like several varieties of bumble bees, plus carpenter bees and the like in the same family.”

Jenkins said there are a host of different pollinators in the local ecosystem, including yellowjackets, beetles, moths, flies and even mosquitoes. 

“But honeybees are pretty cute and very interesting to watch,” he said.

Beekeeper Darrell Sopel, Edmonton, July 13, 2022.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows a swarm of bees on a LRT traffic signal near 100A Street and 102 Avenue, July 13, 2022. The signal is part of the Valley Line LRT. Learn more about bees in the city.