At home in a home

A swarm of honey bees have invaded an Alberta home. Who can blame them? According to one newspaper, the bees were confused by the skep-looking geodesic dome that a rural Canadian family calls home. The bees were confused? Perhaps the news reporter was making a joke.

Left, A Home, not a beehive – – – Right, A 19th-Century beehive Confused? The bees aren’t.

These are beehives.

Once again, we have succumbed to our tendency to imagine that bees think like people. The Sun newspaper reporter wrote: “That’s what you get when your house happens to look like a giant beehive… the bees just seem naturally drawn to the round structure.” No, not true. Not even a little itsy-bit true. The honey bees had absolutely no idea that the house they settled in looked like the old-fashioned skep hives that haven’t been used in Canada for over a hundred years. Unless those bees had been reading some very, very old beekeeping journals, they would not have been thinking, “Hey, Betsy-bee, don’t that look like a big beehive? Let’s go fill ‘er up.” Nope. Bees don’t think like that.

“That’s what you get when your house happens to look like a giant beehive,” said the newspaper. Actually, beehives built by humans in this part of the world are rectangular white boxes – they sort of look like most of the houses on Main Street. They don’t look like geodesic domes. But the bees don’t care. With their multi-lensed eyes (and tens of thousands of receptors) they do not see what we see, they don’t recognize hives or homes as we do. Assuming that bees see the world as we do – in both the literal and figurative sense – is exercising anthropomorphism. That’s the common habit of instilling human traits on objects and creatures. It probably arises from our noble instinct of empathy, but it creates trouble when we interpret the world around us in such terms. Carried to extreme, we might place a television inside a beehive: we enjoy an occasional nature flick, surely the bees will, too.

What drew the bees to the skep-shaped house? The home-owner, Cheryl Morgan got it right when she said, “Maybe they saw it as a ready-made beehive, so they moved right in.” Scout bees see every crevasse, nook, and hole-in-the-wall as a potential “ready-made” beehive, which their swarm might call home. If it is dark, sheltered from sun, wind and rain, and has a small defendable entrance, it could definitely be used as a swarm’s castle.

Bees invading a home can be a big problem for a home owner. In this case, I think the story ends happily. The home owner found Calgary’s Urban Beekeepers’ network (Apiaries and Bees for Communities) which helped put her in touch with a local beekeeper who removed the bees. An interesting interview and more details to this story are found on CBC radio at this link.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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