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Royal Bay-Bee Mania

Written by Jeff Veglahn
    Friday, 30 August 2013
Royal Bay-Bee Mania

The topic on the first day of the Urban Ecologists Summer Camp in the Menomonee Valley was insects. The honeybees in our rooftop hive gave the campers a special treat by letting them witness one of the more exciting events in the insect world: a bee swarm, which accompanies the birth of a new queen. This would soon become an experience they wouldn’t forget.

The idea of a swarm of bees is terror-inducing for most people, but bees are actually at their most docile when swarming. Here’s how it works: the queen lays an egg into a special part of the hive called a queen cup; this egg will develop into the new queen. Meanwhile, some worker bees scout the area for a new hive location, while others choose which workers will leave the hive to populate the new one. Once the new queen is ready to take the throne, the swarm begins. Tens of thousands of bees leave the hive and swarm around it awaiting the queen’s exit. This is what caught the attention of our campers.

The kids went to the roof of the building to get a better look at the swarming bees. When the old queen leaves the hive to settle in the new colony, the bees detect her scent and follow her. “This is the most awesome thing I’ve seen!” one of the students exclaimed, and with that we were all off to follow the queen.

Our queen flew east down Pierce Street and landed in a small oak next to the street. We walked there and met Charlie Koenen, local bee expert, standing among the swirling, buzzing throng. Charlie explained to the campers what was happening, as thousands of workers flew around them. One by one the campers realized the bees were totally uninterested in them and the slowly became comfortable in the swarm. “I’ve hated bees until today.” one of the campers said smiling.

As the bees settled on the tree, we got ready to collect the swarm and put them in a temporary hive. While some Urban Ecology Center staff members held the hive underneath the bees, Charlie gave the tree one firm shake. The whole swarm of bees fell into the hive and those holding the hive were literally covered in bees! The queen, along with a few hundred workers, was safely in the new hive. The swarm was a success: 15 campers, 20,000 bees, 0 bee stings, 1 new hive and 1 amazing experience!

Co-written by Jeff Veglahn, Land Steward and John Ela, Community Program Educator

Jeff Veglahn

Jeff Veglahn

Jeff was born and raised in La Crosse, Wis. enjoying what the Mississippi River and wetlands had to offer. He received a B.S. in Ecology from Winona State University in Winona, Minn. After graduating in 2009, he and his wife moved here to Milwaukee. Jeff was hired here at the Urban Ecology Center as the Seasonal Land Steward at Riverside Park in 2011. In January of 2013, he started as the permanent Land Steward for the Menomonee Valley branch. His favorite activities include cooking (eating), fishing, and exploring personal faith based disciplines.

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