This summer, Facilities employees found something surprising in a campus building: a hive of 20,000 endangered honeybees hidden inside the siding on Stephens Annex. Below, Facilities Support Services Manager Tracie Rusnak and Beekeeper Bill Castro share how they safely relocated the hive to a nearby apiary, including the jaw-dropping amount of honey it contained.
Tracie: We got a call this summer reporting bee activity in the Stephens Annex. When we checked it out we saw a dozen bees at a time entering and exiting a small hole in the siding, so it was pretty clear there was a hive. We called a pest control expert who said they were endangered honeybees. That changed the ballgame.
Tracie: We needed someone who could relocate the honeybees AND their hive. Plus they had to properly extract the hive from a structure—otherwise it could cause problems in the building. Maintenance Manager Rene Florendo found Bee Friendly Apiary and it was clear that they knew what they were doing.
Bill: When I got to Towson I opened the building cavity and cut into the honeycombs so I could vacuum the bees. “Vacuuming bees” sounds strange, but it’s the safest way I’ve found to relocate them. I use a specialized vacuum that safely collects them. After the bees were extracted, I separated the honeycombs from the bee eggs and larva. I put the combs that had eggs and larva into a special box and then released the bees from the vacuum into the same box so they were all together. I put the honey and combs without the bees or eggs into a separate bucket. There were about 20,000 bees and 25 pounds of honey in the hive. I loaded it all into my truck and drove it home to my apiary.
Bill: As you can imagine, the bees don’t take kindly to being vacuumed. I get stung hundreds of times every season. My body’s started to adjust to it, and it stops bothering me after a couple of hours. A bee sting actually bothers me less than a mosquito bite now.
Bill: I keep a close eye on the bees after the move to make sure the queen is doing okay and that they have enough frames to reestablish. If they’re not doing well, I nurse them along with food or extra frames. Usually 60-70% of the bees that I relocate make it. This year has been a tough one for bees, but the Towson bees are doing well. They should be able to make it through winter.
Note: About one third of our food is dependent on pollination from bees and other invertebrates. Bees are extremely important to our ecosystem, but colonies are dying rapidly because of pesticides, parasites and habitat loss. Maryland lost more than 60 percent of its bee population in 2014-2015 alone.
Interviews and story by Pamela Gorsuch