You know that a hive of bees may contain 50,000 insects. You probably also know that you can often open a hive and work its frames with just short-sleeves, sandals, and a bit of smoke. We tend to forget that normal people might be totally freaked out by a few dozen bees, let alone 50,000.
However, with all the recent attention on bees in the papers and on-line, we may have begun to think that people are generally OK with bees. They’re not. So, Here are two articles appearing this week’s news that remind us that people are still generally timid when it comes to honey bees. A few dozen might as well be a few million.
The first story is downright bizarre. A young man in Toronto is being hailed on social media as a fearless hero. The CBC story headline (“Man saves queen-less bee swarm with help of Facebook group”) comes close to summarizing North American culture in 2016. The good Samaritan, Nima Alizadeh, saw a FB posting about a cluster of bees huddled around a fire hydrant. He lived nearby, rode his bike to the spot and reported the rescue progress on the FB group. Followers cheered (“Save the Bees!”) and jeered (“ARE YA NUTS?”) while Mr Alizadeh – who is not a beekeeper – scooped the bugs into a cardboard box.
There were probably 200 honey bees. A typical swarm has 30,000. (There is a report that some beekeepers caught a swarm at the same fire hydrant a few days earlier and these were accidentally left behind.) Some of the 200 straggler bees were reluctant to participate in their own rescue, but eventually they were in the box, on the bike, then transferred to a car and taken to a beekeeper where they “will be taken to three colonies by the beekeeper on Monday.” Three colonies? I don’t know why they’d be taken to three colonies (instead of one) unless it’s because the bees are carrying mites and foulbrood spores and this will help infect all the healthy hives with bad karma more quickly.
After delivering the box of bees, Mr Alizadeh drove away, but quickly returned to the beekeeper because he discovered one bee had escaped the box inside his car and had crawled into his coffee cup holder. Everyone on social media should be thrilled and relieved to know that the lost bee was re-united with her sisters. Meanwhile, in the time it took you to read this, three kids died of preventable disease in the tropics. That’s also indicative of our culture in 2016, though it’s a reality that’s not likely to be shared among the same social media postings as the Toronto bee rescue. Just doesn’t have the same urgency, I guess.
The second story is less trivial, but reminds us of the shock and wow that a few bees sometimes brings to the general public. There is a more reasonable quest in this honey bee movement. But the reporter goes for the scare bits first by writing, “Forget snakes. How about bees on a plane? Thousands and thousands of them?” This story from the CBC tells us about two nucs being carried in the cargo bay on a flight from Ottawa to Whitehorse, in the Yukon. The reporter would not be expected to know that millions upon millions of bees travel all the way from the south Pacific to Canada and the USA every spring. The excitement of two small hives in cargo seems to overwhelm the news reporter – who almost misses the bigger story.
The bigger story is that the very northern city of Whitehorse has a Downtown Urban Gardener’s Society which had to ask permission of the town council to be able to bring these two small hives to town. I’ve been to Whitehorse. It’s nice. A lovely city. It’s way up north where winters last too long. Bees are tough to maintain at a place that’s 61-degrees north of the equator. Approval from the town council shouldn’t have been necessary, instead the city leaders might have suggested the gardeners bring 20 colonies to help the city gardens and fruits, and to make a few pounds of local honey. But as long as news stories continue to remind the public about how scary a few bees are, we can expect such caution to be the norm.