Vagabond Bees


Bee swarm as photographed by Tucson photographer Martha Lochert.

Imagine my surprise when I was preparing my yard for a party in May and noticed this in one of my trees, not one hour after having trimmed some of the branches. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous, given five days later I was going to have 85 guests in my backyard who might not enjoy the party knowing an angry swarm might ruin their fun.

I had no reason to believe these were Africanized and I did not want to call an extermination company. We have a few bee-friendly companies in town who remove bees without killing them. I assumed this was a hive in the making and jotted down a few phone numbers, but decided to wait a few days before doing anything, as I did some research online and read that sometimes they just go away after a few days. The internet is ripe with bad information, though, so I took that advise with a grain of salt.

My neighbor said he stood perfectly still in his yard and sprayed Windex at a swarm in his yard. Each time they got agitated, flew around, then resettled. After five or six times, they all flew away because they didn’t like the smell of the ammonia. (Maybe that movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was right about Windex curing everything!) I was a bit skeptical, however. What if they just decided to pick a less accessible place to set up camp – like in the eves of my house? I decided to do nothing yet. Maybe they would miraculously leave and I could avoid making any decision about removal (and the associated cost involved in doing so).

So I cautiously got up on a ladder before dinner and made some photographs. This grouping was about eight inches from top to bottom. They showed no concern for the black metal and glass blob that was invading their space. The next morning they were still there. Most of them were in the shade and sleeping, but there was a little section where the morning light was hitting them directly and those bees were starting to wiggle.

I had a photography job that morning and left. On my way home I thought about what my neighbor had suggested. I could strategically place myself (and my vehicle) in the alley and spray from there. If they were angry Africanized bees and I needed a quick escape, I could jump in my car and close the door. I was going to give it a try. After all, it was a cost-free option.

So I got home, and took a peek outside before moving my car around to the alley. I thought I was in the twilight zone. They were gone without a trace; no residue on the branch where I thought there was a hive; nothing! If I did not have the photographs I would think I were crazy!

That’s when I realized there was no hive at all. Underneath that outer layer of bees was just layer upon layer of more bees. It was not a hive, but a swarm. Apparently bees will stop and rest while scouts leave the swarm to find good digs for a hive. Once they find a good spot the swarm moves on. So that is why there was no sticky residue or any other sign of their visit. Fascinating …

Image registered with U.S. Library of Congress. Any use requires licensing from Martha Lochert.

%d bloggers like this: