In the last several weeks, two giant swarms of bees have been spotted in downtown Chicago. While the Loop and the trendy Fulton Market District are generally swarming with people, these dense urban areas are not the most friendly places for honey bees. Last Friday, a giant swarm of bees was spotted on a tree near the popular Aviary restaurant in Fulton Market. Moshe Tamssot, a resident of the area and an amateur beekeeper happened to be on the scene with a camera to record the rescue of the beehive.
He posted the video, along with a complete rundown of the situation on Reddit yesterday:
On Friday afternoon, right before our planned Mad Boiler lunch, Brian W. Fitzpatrick called to let me know that there was a Bee Swarm right outside the The Aviary Bar, near his startup Tock's offices at Fulton Market & Morgan -- epicenter of the West Loop's fine-dining and ticketing empire run by Nick Kokonas, Grant Achatz, and Fitz.
I didn't think the bees would still be there by the time we'd finish lunch, but a vacationing Jana Kinsman, who runs Bike a Bee and inspired me to get into beekeeping, tweeted that they may hang around for a few days, but could leave at any moment in their search for a new home.
This gave me the time needed to round up ladders, a cube truck, and one of my Bee Yoda friends, Naaman Gambil, of Westside Bee Boyz, LLC.
Kudos to Jason Kim, whose family runs a local food distribution business. I spotted a cube truck running outside their offices early Saturday morning. Fitz's idea was coming together -- the cube truck would be the perfect platform to work off of, given how the swarm was on a branch extending over the street.
After introducing myself, I explained my Mission. He was into it, and asked for a Liability Waiver, while he sought his father's permission.
Jason's family really wanted to help, but all the trucks were booked for deliveries -- so instead, they called Penske Truck Rentals, made arrangements, and gave me an envelope full of cash to pay for the truck. Kindness of strangers, now friends! :)
Swarming is a natural reproductive behavior for bees. Typically triggered by overcrowding in the hive. The female worker bees, 99.9% of the hive, will vote to make new Queens, and swarm.
They'll choose eggs of a certain age, and enlarge the cell to accommodate what will be a Queen Bee, roughly twice the size of a Worker Bee (see Queen Cell picture in comments).
The selected embryos, all the same age, will be fed a diet of Royal Jelly, a secretion gathered from behind the Worker Bee's ears.
When the first Queen Bee emerges, she'll have minutes to find the other Queen cells and stab to death her competition with her Ovipositor, a modified stinger. If another Queen manages to emerge from her cell, there will be a battle to the death.
When there is only one New Queen standing, the hive will divide. Unlike humans, where the kids leave the nest, nature reasons the old are more expendable. Hence the older Queen will leave, accompanied by the older half of the hive. This is a Swarm.
The Old Queen is vulnerable outside of the hive, and represents the future of the colony. She'll land somewhere, and all the Worker Bees will form a protective cluster around her. This swarm cluster was HUGE, as can be seen in the video. We harvested at least 10 lbs, or 40,000 bees.
Every day Scouts will leave the cluster in search of a suitable new home. They'll return and communicate information of what they found with the rest of the hive, through a Waggle Dance, shaking their booties, and dancing a pattern, that downloads coordinates and site information to the collective hive.
A vote will be taken, and most new homes will be rejected. When all agree on a suitable home, the cluster will disband, and all the bees will fly in formation, as far as five miles to their new home.
For Beekeepers, rescuing swarms is a great way to get free bees, while performing a valuable community service.
It's even more important in an urban setting, where the bees may unknowingly set up home in a building or unwanted place, or freak people out -- resulting in a call to an exterminator, and their death.