Equator Gringos

October 5, 2007

A Swarm of Bees

Filed under: Ecuador, teaching overseas — Tags: , , , , — lstollin @ 6:52 am

Tuesday last my principal, Mike, walked into the room and said that students should stay away during lunch from the fields which are close to my room, because bees had swarmed onto a soccer goal. I’d already heard about it somehow and had gone out and captured this picture and video.

Of course I walked our class out to see the swarm (Spanish enjambre, a new word for me). As I had noted from my visit a few minues earlier, the bees had other things on their mind than attacking, so I let the students get within about 15 feet (5 meters). Just as I had, they were full of questions, mostly “Why do they do that?” Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article about swarming, which as WP always does, has many links to keep you perusing for hours for the kind of fascinating factoids guaranteed to make you the death of any party.

To briefly answer the question why, here’s a brief edited excerpt from the article:

Swarming is the natural means of reproduction of honey bee colonies (considering the colony as the organism rather than individual bees which cannot survive alone), including the domesticated Western honey bee. In the process two or more colonies are created in place of the original single colony. It is considered good practice in beekeeping to reduce swarming as much as possible, as allowing this form of reproduction often results in the loss of the more vigorous hive, and the remaining colony is unproductive for the season.

It goes on to mention that laissez-faire beekeeping, not actively preventing swarming, means you end up having to try to capture the swarm when it happens. Personally, I’ve always railed against laissez-faire beekeeping, but to limited avail.

Capture the swarm is exactly what they did. Here’s how: start with a tip from science teacher Diann Henderson to bait a cardboard box with honey. Add some smoke to entorpecer the beasts (a wonderful Spanish word meaning “to make slow, dull, clumsy, or awkward”). With the entire custodial staff arrayed like bridesmaids in coveralls, before long nearly all the bees were in the box. As luck would have it (there’s one in every crowd), one of the contractors sanding the new gym floor was a beekeeper, and was thrilled to have a new hive. I need to ask how he got them home – taxi? bus?

Given the synchronicity of things, perhaps it’s no surprise that this week by chance I also listened to a fascinating podcast of RadioLab, a show from New York Public Radio (WNYC) about “Emergence,” the science of the intelligence of large groups that have no leader: bees, ants, Google’s popularity, the neurons comprising our brains. Listen or download it at RadioLab.

Finally, I keep thinking of British transvestite comedian Eddie Izzard’s hilarious piece about beekeepers. Click here to see it on Youtube (please note: one swear word).



  1. Joy’s Grandmom, Daisy could tell you stories about bee keeping – she was telling us in pretty detailed fashion how her Dad used to get the honey from his hives when we were down there recently. At 95 she has great long term memory about events that happened when she was young girl on a working farm. Bettye

    Comment by Bettye Kelso — October 5, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  2. Luke, did you know more than a 1/4 of world population of honeybees have disappeared – lots and lots of research going on – maybe you have discovered the answer – they have flown to Ecuador! Contact the Journal Science and let them know right away.

    Comment by Bettye Kelso — October 5, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  3. […] on bees Filed under: Ecuador — lstollin @ 7:17 pm I just added a line to the Swarm of Bees post, but I’ll repeat it here: I keep thinking of British transvestite comedian Eddie […]

    Pingback by More on bees « Equator Gringos — October 6, 2007 @ 7:31 pm

  4. […] 30th, 2007 · No Comments Beekeeping Words – my recent experience with a Swarm of Bees caused me to remember one word about bees, hear another, and look up some […]

    Pingback by Covered in Bees « The Word Page — October 29, 2007 @ 10:22 pm

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