About two days before Christmas I got an e-mail from an Arizona homeowner about a swarm of bees that were hanging from the eaves of her house. She said the weather had been unusually warm, but just as it started to change for the worse, the swarm of bees arrived. She didn’t want them to die but she didn’t want them to move into her house or yard so she wondered what she could do.
I wrote back and suggested she contact a beekeeper in her area—not an exterminator or pest control company—and see if someone would come and get them. I also told her that a beekeeper might be able to save them by feeding them honey or sugar syrup but that they would almost surely die if left to their own devices. A swarm at this time of year is often known as a “starvation swarm” because, most likely, they were out of food at home so they absconded in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.
Much to my surprise she e-mailed back the next day and said a beekeeper had come to her home and captured the swarm. She also said the beekeeper promised he would do his best to keep them alive. But here’s the clincher: based on what I had written, she had put out sugar syrup for the bees until the beekeeper arrived!
I thought this was one of the sweetest (no pun) and caring things I’ve ever known a non-beekeeper to do. I was so impressed. In my experience, people like to run out and kill swarms—or pay to have them killed—immediately. And here was a complete stranger reading between the lines of my e-mail and feeding sugar syrup to a hoard of insects—stinging insects that can be strange and intimidating, not to mention just plain scary, to a non-beekeeper.
I thought about this incident a lot during the Christmas holiday. It occurred just several days after my daughter told me about a friend of hers who recently had a swarm land on her porch rail. Instead of calling a beekeeper she went to Home Depot, bought a spray can of poison, and emptied it on the bees. My daughter was incensed over this indiscriminate use of pesticide—not only because of the dead bees but because of the unborn twins the woman is carrying. Chances are she was not wearing protective gear and she (and the twins) got a good dose of whatever it was before she was finished. So sad. So unnecessary.
To the lady in Arizona I say “Thank you!” To the lady in Washington I say “Hope your kids are okay.” To everyone else I say, “Call a beekeeper before an exterminator.” Just a little bit of empathy can go a very long way.