DALLAS — Pat Smith’s neighbor could hear them before he saw them.
Making a loud, constant buzz, it didn’t take long to locate the mass of bees that had gathered in Smith’s tree in her front yard.
“He rang my doorbell and said ‘Do you know you have bees?’” Smith said.
The conundrum — what do you do with a colony of bees in your tree? — made for an interesting afternoon at the end of Applegate Trail Drive in Dallas.
A neighbor, Brenda Miller, suggested calling the city to see if someone was available to remove them. That was the right call.
The city dispatched Gary Pierce, who, at one point in his “hobby,” had 26 colonies of bees on his property. At the time he was called to help Smith with her seemingly docile, but still not-welcome visitors, he only had one colony.
That was about to change.
“Settle down girls,” Pierce said quietly to the bees as he cut away branches of Smith’s tree surrounding the colony, which had the appearance of a large, ever-moving bird’s nest.
Pierce wore a beekeeper hat and gloves and moved deliberately to keep from agitating the bees. They buzzed around him, but didn’t seem to be too alarmed.
Pierce said the swarming bees had likely splintered off a larger colony when a new queen bee was born and kicked out the old queen. A portion of the workers and drones will follow the old queen to a new hive. They probably thought the branches of Smith’s tree were a good place to rest temporarily while looking for a new home.
Pierce made that search easy.
After removing a few limbs, Pierce struck the branch holding the bees and a mass dropped into a waiting hive box. He quickly covered it and climbed down the ladder and placed it on the ground.
Needless to say, the bees were a little agitated then, flying around in all directions.
His hope was that the queen was in the middle of that mass of bees, and once the confusion of being moved passed, the bees would start making a home in the box.
Smith watched, fascinated.
“Well, we will let them be and hopefully they will move on,” she said, giggling at her unintended pun. “Let them be ….”
Pierce’s plan worked. Within a few minutes the bees in the box began “fanning” out the queen’s scent to call the rest of the colony to its new hive. In another five minutes, most of the bees had filtered into the box.
“I’m glad you called instead of just killing them,” said Debbie Blando, Pierce’s neighbor and fledgling beekeeper who joined him on the call.
“No way. We’ve got to have our honeybees,” Miller said, referring to reports of honeybees dying off.
Pierce said he believed there are two causes to the startling decline in bee colonies. One is two species of mite that can devastate bee populations. The other, ominously called colony collapse, is more mysterious, but Pierce believes it is caused by pesticides. His theory is that thirsty bees drink water contaminated with pesticides and that causes the mass die-offs.
“We are going to be in a lot of trouble if we lose all our bees,” he said. “There other insects that pollinate, but not as much as bees do.”
He said colony collapse hasn’t been seen much in Polk County, thankfully. And it’s less likely to happen to Smith’s unexpected guests. Pierce is going to take the colony to his property on Oakdale Road.
After a few days, he will check on the queen to make sure she’s producing enough eggs to sustain the colony – workers only live 15 to 30 days and have to be replaced. If not, he will order a new queen.
“Ok girls, we’re going home,” he said, placing the hive in the back of his SUV.