A Story About Bad Choices . . .

. . . and bad choices averted:


We got a call through the Maine State Beekeepers Swarm Hotline about a swarm in the Martin’s Point neighborhood in Portland.  When I called the woman with the problem she told me a “lot of bees” were in her air conditioner.  I had to ask her to describe what a “lot of bees” meant to her; sometimes homeowners have a different definition than we swarm wranglers do.  But she described a mass of bees that had completely covered her working window AC unit.  Hearing a lot of “splat” from bees hitting the fan, she had turned off the air.  Most of the bees then went inside the air conditioner and a bunch of bees made their way into her house till she duct taped the openings inside.  This was not a good PR situation for honeybees and I had to go check it out.  An air conditioning unit is a profoundly stupid place for a swarm of bees to alight.  As I’ve said to many new beekeepers – bees, like any other animal, sometimes make very bad choices.

When I got to the house it was clear a swarm’s worth of bees were in and around the AC and around and above the roof of the house.  They weren’t hanging in a cluster as I had hoped but were indeed inside the air conditioner.  I believe what had happened was the queen, for reasons we’ll never understand, had flown into the AC and had been atomized by the whirring fan.  I can’t find any other explanation for the bees’ interest and fascination with the entire air conditioner, not just a single spot.  The whole AC must have smelled like their team leader.

I hurried back to the Honey Exchange and gathered up some gear:  an extension ladder (I believe I’ve explained before I am no fan of climbing up ladders but duty calls); a 5 frame nucleus box with an old frame of brood comb; a strap for said nuc box; some lemongrass oil (to mimic the “come together” scent of a beehive); Fischer’s Bee Quick and a rag.  Then I headed back to the house to test out my plan.  Put simply, it was to make the AC smell like something bees dislike (without making the machine unusable in the future) and drive them into a hive full of smells they like.  The video below shows the process:

At the top of the ladder my plan seemed to be working.  The homeowner, her visiting friends, and her neighbors were all fascinated and entertained by the absurdity of the situation.  And everyone was kind and concerned about the welfare of the bees.  I went home that evening feeling pretty certain the bees would move into the nuc box.

That night I had a thought:  What I really ought to do is go out and screen up the entrance to the nuc box in the darkness to be sure to get the whole colony while they are inside for the night.  But I’d had a couple of beers and decided against getting in the car.  Slowly the realization came to me of what an insanely bad choice that would have been.  Clambering up a ladder to a second story window in the middle of the night?  What am I, Bruno Hauptmann?

Instead I waited till morning.  We arrived at work to find a message from the woman who had called to say she had looked up at the nuc box and the bees seemed to be all in the hive and no longer in the AC.  I went over, screened up the entrance (leaving a few flying bees to duke it out with the whirring fan – I can only do so much), and moved the hive to a bee yard at the other end of town.  After they had settled down I inspected the colony and couldn’t locate a queen.  I gave them some brood to look after and I’ll check them again next week.  If they need a new team leader we have some good queens available.  We should be able to find one who won’t make such bad choices.


About inthebeeloudglade

An unlikely beekeeper who runs The Honey Exchange, a hive and honey store in Portland, Maine.
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2 Responses to A Story About Bad Choices . . .

  1. Deborah says:

    What were the bad choices…except the ones the bees made, sounds like it all went well for the remaining ones in the nuc!

    • That the idea even crossed my mind to go to a stranger’s house in the middle of the night and climb up a ladder on the side of their house makes me worry about the future when my mind REALLY starts to slip . . .

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