A Bee Massacre


To update the story of Allie's poisoned beehive: this is what I found, when I got to Allie's house. Thousands and thousands of dead bees, littering the area in front of the hive. There were tons of bees, dead in the grass, but my grass photos weren't particularly clear. Dead bees in the grass look remarkably like dirt. Trust me when I tell you that there was a six-foot-square patch of dead bees, right in front of the hive.

Allie and I suspect that someone came into her yard and started spraying the entrance of her hive with insecticide. The bees released their "alarm pheromones" and more and more bees poured out of the hive in response. The spraying probably continued until the bees overpowered the sprayer, and stung this person so much that they ran away.

Here's what it looked like inside the hive. A carpet of death. Horrible and senseless.

Honeybees are not aggressive toward humans. Robb and I keep two vigorous hives in a small urban back yard, and none of our neighbors have ever complained about trouble with bees. In fact, when we gave everyone honey for Christmas, most everyone was surprised that we even had bees (our immediate next-door neighbors already knew, of course).

I had a heavy heart, and low expectations for Allie's hive. Robb and I had packed up a frame of freshly laid eggs, from one of our hives. The idea was that if any bees survived, they might be able to raise a new generation of young from those eggs. Furthermore, if Allie's queen had been poisoned, the bees could potentially raise new queens from the donated eggs. Robb and I placed the frame of eggs, and the "nurse bees" that were tending the eggs inside of our swarm-catching box, and I drove out to Martinez, to see what could be done.

The bees hummed in the back of my car, and I thought dire thoughts about bees and humans.

Considering the carnage evident at the entrance to the hive, I had no expectations of finding any live bees, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened the hive up and saw large numbers of bees, going about their business. I had anticipated finding only a few survivors, mostly going through their death-throes.

Allie had identified a particularly secluded part of her yard, that would be unseen by any neighbors, and Robb had provided a new "landing board" for the bees. We figured that we ought to replace any of the wooden parts of the hive that might have been sprayed with insecticide.

Once we determined that there were live bees, I did a cursory inspection of the hive.

Astonishingly, I spotted Allie's queen.

I was shocked. I never see my own queens, and yet somehow, Allie's queens always walk right up to me. Queen bees are larger than their daughters, and move with a purpose. Combine that with the fact that the sun was setting, and you get this blurry photograph. (The queen is centered on the bottom of the frame. She's larger and redder than any of the other bees.)

In the end, I added the frame of eggs to the hive, along with the nurse bees. I'm unsure if Allie's bees will accept my bees in their hive. There may be a bit of fighting, but at least there are some uncontaminated eggs. We agreed to leave the existing honey for the bees, hoping that it was far enough away from the spray to be safe for bees.

Allie spoke to the captain of her neighborhood watch, an imposing hulk of a man, who turns out to be a huge friend to bees. She plans to file a police report. She'll be improving the locks on her gate. And she plans to speak to all her neighbors. She's figured out a way of phrasing things so that the innocent ones will be alert to trespassers, and the guilty ones will be paranoid about the police. We had a good laugh about her alternate plan to go door-to-door, pretending to be fundraising for some good cause, and look to see which neighbors have bee-stings all over their faces.

So, we're cautiously optimistic. I'll go back next weekend, to check on the bees. Hopefully, I'll find a colony of bees, rebounding from this attack. What we're not clear about is how long-lasting the poison that was used on this hive might be.


I'm glad to hear that there is hope for the hive. And I definitely like the idea of going door to door to see who is covered in bee stings. It would be great to figure out what moron did this.
wassamatta_u said…
Throw a block party. When everyone is gathered, yell "BUZZZ" really loud, and see who flinches!
We also considered giving gifts of honey to all the neighbors, and see who was afraid to eat it, for fear of poisoning.
Anne Bonny said…
Wow, I'm so glad you were able to save some of the bees. That's very uplifting, but still so upsetting. Please continue to update us on the bees. I think she needs to get a really big, really mean dog! That'll teach 'em. I'm so glad that you guys do what you do, the bees are so endangered right now that people like you are providing hope.
ej said…
Lisa, If you would like to borrow my Nikon Micro 200mm sometime (1:1 in FX at ~2 feet, 1:1 in DX at ~1.5 feet) you can. I am thrilled that the queen was still alive and have hopes for the hive. All the best, Ed
Well, a live queen is good news. I suppose if there's concern about residues within the hive, there is always the option of temporarily offering sugar syrup to help dilute out toxins in their diet (and maybe even a pollen patty) so they have access to a clean food resource in the hive. That said, as you're urban, this may not be necessary, as you have a lot more nectar/pollen resources than we do at the moment.

I'm crossing my fingers for the next round of brood to hatch healthy. It's encouraging that there are so many bees still within the hive, and fortunately they should still be summer bees, as they probably haven't quite shifted toward making winter bees yet. They'll still have time to build up their winter population.

In the meantime, I agree, the person who answers the door with two eyes swollen shut is most likely the culprit ;) I hope they got stung for their efforts. Idiots.
Ed -- I do have a micro lens, but thank you for the offer!

What I really want is an infrared motion-activated "game" camera. I want to spy on that hive for a little while.
Allie's garden (and neighborhood) is full of flowers, so I don't think the bees lack for forage. In fact, I think that a lot of the bees that survived the attack were out foraging.

It's going to be an interesting few weeks, for sure. I'm hoping for the best, and preparing for the worst.
Jimmy said…
Maybe the perp is highly allergic to bees and had to go to the hospital. Yeah, I guess I'm a little vindictive.

I think the insecticide will diminish in a few months.

I'm hoping for a full recovery.
Chelsea said…
The thing that steams my clams the most is that the grouchy neighbour didn't just say something to your friend.

You know, "Hey, I know you're technically allowed to keep bees here, but my kid is deathly allergic and it's really making me paranoid/but they keep using my pool as their watering hole/but I'm scared of them and I feel like I can't enjoy my yard now that it's always full of bees. Can we talk about this?"

Instead, they went straight to passive-aggressive and horrible :( Boo. Fingers crossed for a healthy hive in a couple of weeks. If this happened to my bees, yeah, I'd probably try to keep adding clean frames in the middle and rotating the old frames to the outside and then out at a slightly quicker pace than usual.
Mo said…
I'm so pleased that there is some hope for the Hive, and so glad that Allie hasn't been 'put off'. Reading your previous post, I was a bit speechless, I simply don't understand some people at all. Good luck :)
Anonymous said…
Chelsea, I'd call it trespassive-aggressive behavior. This is such a sh--ty act that I'm still astounded reading the follow-up. I'm glad there's some hope. Go with the honey route. Be sweet. High roading.

Lisa said…
Oh, goodness, I hope this works out. I can't imagine someone deliberately spraying insecticide on a hive, but...
Mil said…
Thanks for more access to this story as I will be following it closely.

I am wondering how we can educate people to love and be thankful to the bees rather than fearful. A neighbor down the street from me wanted bees and posted it on her Facebook page. The cries of complaint that ensued!! She didn't get any bees.

I was surprised as I thought this was an "educated" neighborhood. I guess fear of bees is one of the last prejudices we still have.
Dallasmom said…
That is so sad! Especially now that so many bees are having huge drops in their populations, we really need to nurture all the beehives we can.
LeslieH said…
were those the re-homed bees from my fence on easter sunday? so, now martinez is more dangerous than oakland....well, at least for bees.
Thomas said…
I can't imagine why any rational human being would do that. It's amazing how ignorant some people are. One of my favorite things is to be working in the garden while the honey bees are flying about. They are amazing to watch and, yes, very docile.

I say you find the culprit and spray them in the face with Raid...see how they like it. (I'm only half-kidding.)
Kristin said…
Oh my. That's horrendous behavior.

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