bee stories

Did the bees find their keeper?

Early Thursday morning I received an e-mail from Katheryn, a resident of Covina, California. She wrote to ask if I would be willing to look at some photos of insects that had moved into her backyard. She said that she was, “trying to identify the insects to build a case for protecting them.” That intrigued me.

It turns out that Katheryn is a naturalist at heart, but her son is afraid of bees and wasps and her husband isn’t exactly a fan. Nevertheless, she didn’t want anything to happen to the insects without getting a positive i.d. So I told her to send the photos along. I didn’t say so, but I thought they were probably some kind of wasp that I had no hope of identifying. Still, there was no harm in looking.

A little later, I received another e-mail in which Katheryn said the insects, which she thought were bees, seemed docile and that she had gotten within a few feet of them with no problem. I opened the photo to find a lovely swarm of honey bees. How cool is that? I couldn’t have been more excited if the swarm was sitting in my own backyard.

I began to explain that it looked like the swarm had settled in a tree and that it would probably stay there for a day or two until it decided on a new home. In fact, I actually wrote that before I realized there was a second attachment to the e-mail. That attachment turned out to be a five-second video.

I played and replayed the video until I was sure about what I was seeing: fresh white comb hanging from the branches of the tree. I deleted my response and started again–those bees weren’t going anywhere. They were already home.

In subsequent e-mails I explained that she could probably find a beekeeper who would be happy to come and get the colony but, much to my surprise, Katheryn is thinking about it. Maybe she will call someone to remove the colony or maybe she will become a beekeeper herself. Again, I couldn’t be more excited. In her words, the bees are “absolutely wonderful.” I absolutely agree.

So now I’m sitting here on pins and needles waiting to hear the next installment. It looks to me like the bees found their keeper instead of the other way around. Now that’s a new twist on beekeeping.


The honey bee swarm. Photo by K. McGuthry


New comb hanging from the branches. Photo by K. McGuthry


The bee tree. Photo by K. McGuthry

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  • OK, this is a long shot, but I have wanted to start a hive for a year now, just never could figure out if I knew enough to be able to do it right. This is not for the honey, but because I am dismayed about honey bee populations. I am south of Dallas. “Feral” bees have settled under the seat of our teeter totter (foam-padded seat). I live in a suburb, with lots of areas of pasture dotted about the city. I am likely going to move it gently away from the back door to the fence a few yards away, and they haven’t bothered anyone.

    But I am dumbfounded at their choice. And the bees have chosen me! The seat can be removed with some jiggling; it’s bolted on to the frame. I need some advice on how to rig a “home” for these guys without spending a fortune. I have read that bee keepers are not interested in these things, because its more trouble than it’s worth. (But how about if it’s NOT located in a wall?) Any ideas on how to get these little guys to a safer home? Is there a beekeeper network I can tap?

    I would love to keep them and care for them myself, but I have no idea how to do it without mucking it up. This is a lovely problem to have, if only I can figure out what course of action would have the most success. I can send photos if you like. The hive began some time last July, I think, because I recall seeing bees around the seat and thinking it was odd but one of the kids must’ve dropped a popsicle on it.

    The size of the ball of bees is smaller than a volleyball, but larger than a softball. What to do?!?? I know these are honey bees, not bumble bees or wasps or yellowjackets. I have managed that so far. I have combed through your site and searched on “feral” and here I am. Any advice on how to get these little guys into a better home? What a choice! I can think of better places to build. And WHY a teeter totter seat??? Help!

    Until I can figure this out, I will gently move them away from the porch and closer to the back of the yard. They allowed me to raise the seat and I put a bag of gravel on the other seat to keep them off the ground and out of reach of the dogs. I had heard that happy bees do not bother to hurt people, and they were so busy keeping the hive warm that only 3 or 4 were in the air at any time. The temp here is in the low to mid 60s.

    It’s interesting to note that I am already a worm farmer, and the thing that both bees and earthworms have in common is that neither are native to North America. (Yep, go look it up!) Meanwhile: Heeeeelp! What do I do? There are no mature trees in the yard. If I give them a home, it will need to be elsewhere or in a box. I cannot imagine trying to transport a hive of bees on a teeter totter.

    • Lynette,

      I was going to say your bees would move on after a day or two—that it was just a resting swarm—until I got to the part about them being there since July. Hmm. Different story. Can you see comb? It should be obvious by now.

      Bees will live anywhere. You can put them in an empty wooden box and they might make a go of it, but the problem is moving them into something. Without protective equipment or experience, you should probably let someone else do it. Call around and find a local beekeeping club. Someone will come and take it, especially since it is not in a wall and is low to the ground. It’s a piece of cake to take a colony that is so out in the open.

      Their choice is not surprising, colonies have been found in all types of strange locations and we don’t really know what dictates their decision.

      • @Rusty – You are correct. It was a resting swarm. I saw bees in July, and the kids were avoiding the teeter-totter bc of them. But the thing was unobserved since then, so seeing them in July and then now is not a good enough connection. So I was concerned for no reason- it was a resting swarm, they were gone 2 days later. I feel bad, bc they cannot survive with just 2 months left before frost will come.I did contact a bee club, but they responded after the bees were gone. At least I have a local source for next time. I will be looking for bees around the house on sunny days, though. OTOH, I was thrilled to see them there, all in a lump. Totally cool. I teach my kids to leave bees alone and they will leave you alone. No so true about wasps. My fountain was a resource for all manner of insects, reptiles, small mammals, and birds this summer, including wasps, but never saw a bee use it.

        • Lynnette,

          Swarms often use the same place to rest as another swarm did. A later swarm can catch the scent from an earlier swarm, and that scent induces them to use the same spot. So it is not far-fetched to say you had two swarms in the same place. There is a certain branch of a certain tree in my yard that gets a swarm almost every year. Very cool.

  • There is nothing more soothing than to see and hear a big cloud of swarming bees looking for a new home. The only next thing to it is watching that far off swarm take residence in a swarm trap you have prepared for there arrival. Bees tend to love to swarm and land into peach trees, I have even heard of old timers using the leaves to rub into and onto swarm traps as a lure.

  • Neat story. For some reason, I was of the impression that bees needed to be under cover, that they would not start a hive out in the open. My education continues…

    Speaking of education, I have literally absorbed more about beekeeping in the last 5 months than most people learn in a lifetime. I got interested… well, okay… obsessed with honey bees during the summer time when I discovered a colony in the ceiling of the master bedroom of my cabin.

    I immediately did what any red-blooded, totally clueless, macho-man would do. I grabbed three cans of Wasp Spray and emptied them into the hole in my tongue-and-groove ceiling where the bees were coming and going.

    The next time I was up there, I went to inspect my handiwork, fully expecting to see a whole bunch of dead bees. Nope. Instead, the bees were alive and well, coming and going out of a different hole in my ceiling.

    This, of course, roused my curiousity, and I started researching how I could rid myself of these pesky things in my ceiling, thinking that they were immune to Wasp spray. After performing the best link-hopping game on the Internet that you’ve ever witnessed, I walked away from my computer fully educated on the devastation of CCD, the amazing benefits of honeybees, and the basics on hive captures and beekeeping. I had transformed myself from a mass-murdering exterminator into an avid supporter in one sitting.

    A couple of weekends later, I drove like a madman back up to the cabin with my new bee suit, new hive box, and homemade bee-vac, hoping and praying that the Wasp spray didn’t have a lasting effect on the colony.

    As it turns out, my aim was as bad as my intentions were, at the time. When I removed the tongue-and-groove, I discovered that the hole that I had sprayed into was pointed in the opposite direction of the hive and down another rafter path. The colony was still alive and well, without having received even so much as a molecule of Wasp Spray.

    I captured the colony, placed them in my box, using all of the techniques I’d learned from no less than 50 Youtube videos, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the bees deserted me (can you blame them???) about two weeks later. So, I’ll be a beekeeper this coming season instead.

    Anyway, due to my incredibly bad aim and poorly conceived intentions, I now have a new hobby/obsession in life. I do woodworking quite a bit (I built the previously mentioned cabin) and I have spent the winter making bee hives, frames, and other hive components. I’m really looking forward to the forthcoming apiary events in my life. 🙂

    By the way, this is a most excellent website, Rusty. Thank you for the wonderful stories and education. 🙂

  • I recently wrote a quick note somewhere here on the site about a developing hive in a huge bougainvillea in my driveway. The hive was growing rapidly. I got stung a couple of times while trimming the bush, which I didn’t do again except early in the day or later on when it got cool. Long story short, I went away for 2 weeks over Christmas and the neighbor took it upon herself to have the hive removed because there’s a neighbor who’s mildly allergic to stings and “there were some bees in her orange tree!” That was her excuse, anyway. I got very angry that I wasn’t told about this removal. It looked like they did a botched, sloppy job. The bees weren’t going to bother anyone as long as we just gave them a wide berth. But no! Everyone got into a panic. There’s still some residue of honey and wax left on my driveway. It makes me sad to look at it every time I walk by. Ugh.

    • Jim,

      Yes, I remember the colony in the bougainvillea. I would sue your neighbor for trespass, malicious mischief, theft of property and/or whatever other laws you can find. Have I ever sued a neighbor? Yes. It is quite gratifying.

      Not that it matters, but how the hell does she expect to get oranges if she keeps all the bees out of her orange tree? She sounds soft in the head.

      Nothing on earth irks me more than neighbors who don’t mind their own.

  • I love the stories. I work in open source hardware, and noticed a cool link between electronics and bee hives!

    Open Source Bee Hives is a global collaborative response to the threat to bees. They have hive plans and use the Smart City open source hardware project kits and API to monitor bee hive temps and humidity from bee keepers around the world. It apparently automatically publishes your bee data to the web. The web interface and smart city module are already there; you just insert the sensors in a crook or cranny inside your bee hive. Wish I had time to start a hive and participate in this. I would have to clear a hive with my HOA and the City, first. My city ordinance states that no one can have something on their property that is a source/home/breeding ground for mosquitoes, bees, flies, or other pests….I was so offended that they included bees!

      • It depresses me severely. I try not to think about it. I do my part by recycling everything, educating others about bees, by reducing my footprint in as much as possible, and I’ve gone so far as to tell my kids not to have more than one child each, as the earth is already overburdened. I only wish that each person were able to have at least one hive (or to foster a location for a self-sustaining hive) in their own back yard. At the very least, we can plant bee-friendly flowers.

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