What Do a Million Bees Look Like?

million bees

I hate to sound prickly and petulant,  but the news media has done it again.  Today, say the news folks, ONE MILLION BEES were removed from an Austin church. That’s a stupid statement.

Someone working at the scene must have talked to a news outlet and said, “I don’t know… looks like a million bees were in that church.” And that’s OK. That’s one person, at the scene making a comment, probably as a joke, to one reporter who reported it. But then dozens copied the headline. Sometimes news people are shameless in their copycat reporting. Do reporters have a Share button in their newsrooms, modeled after Facebook’s sharing scheme? Seems like it.

What puzzles me is that no one who encountered the one million number which was bouncing from news office to news office around the world gave it any thought before repeating it. You would think that at least one budding entomologist or hobby beekeeper exists somewhere in the newsroom – someone who could say, “Whoa. That ain’t right.”

It’s not right. A big strong wild swarm (such as the one preying at the Austin church) might have 50,000 bees. But that’s pushing it for a wild swarm.  So, a million bees would need 20 individual over-sized swarms to make a million bees. It is impossible for that many swarms to have been in that church. Just can’t happen. You are talking about the entire contents of a small commercial apiary. And the bees would never merge into a 20-queen super-swarm to create what the bee-removers called a single hive.  Bees are not friendly enough to combine swarms – one queen dominates and kills all rivals. Even if 2 swarms somehow merged in the church (that would be 100,000 bees) soon there would be just one queen and the population would drop back down to 50,000 again. That’s the way it works. There are never a million bees in a single hive.

So, here’s the really disturbing thing. If the news folks don’t do their own reporting but instead rely on some central aggregator which gets things sensationally wrong, then how much of the other news which we see each day is also disturbingly wrong?  I am not so irritated that the headlines erroneously read “ONE MILLION BEES”.  That’s a mistake, but it’s not a big deal. However, I am very irritated that no one realized the number is radically wrong. No one did their homework. No one retracted. No one fixed the news.

My advice? Quit reading news presented by the ‘reputable’ news agencies and switch to getting all your information from blogs. Like this one.

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.
This entry was posted in Bee Biology, Culture, or lack thereof, Queens, Strange, Odd Stuff, Swarms and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What Do a Million Bees Look Like?

  1. Berry Urban says:

    Thanks Ron for learning us a lesson about the news. I don’t think we good have a better example! I will certainly think twice when I will post, share or retweet news. Thanks again.


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