(This post has been edited for accuracy).
What would be your reaction if you suddenly saw a swarm of bees buzzing through the sky or even around you? For many the response would be panic. RUN! AAAAAA!.
I’m here to tell you, though, that there is nothing to fear (note: see Upate below). For the record, the bee I am referring to here is the common European Honey Bee, the bee most of us think of when we think bee. Anyway, these bees aren’t out looking to attack someone innocently going about their business. They are simply relocating. Here is a link with more information on that.
On our property we’ve had the privilege of temporarily providing rest stops to three swarms. I can personally attest to the fact that the last thing in the world bees are thinking of when on these ventures is attack. This is a picture I took after the first swarm landed:
As you can see, the bees were completely oblivious to my presence. If not, they still didn’t show me the slightest hostility.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened at a plant nursery I worked at years ago. There, I was also witness to three swarms. Two of those three times, however, the result was tragic. Even though I stood right in the midst of these swarms, hundreds of bees flying all around me, not a one landing on me, until they alighted on their chosen resting spot, thus demonstrating their safety, still the store customers freaked out and demanded the store do something. The result was that the next morning when I came in I found the ground littered with the bodies of all those hundreds of bees. Surely the pest control people who did the actual spraying could have told them not to worry, that they’d likely be gone in a couple of days, but then where’s the profit in that?
The third time bees decided to bed down for the night at the nursery, I waited until they were all on the wisteria they’d chosen, then another staff member and I carefully lifted the 15 gallon pot, put it on a pallet and with a pallet jack took it outside and put the pot in a nondescript area out of view of the general public. Just as expected, two days later the bees having rested, were off. A few somehow got left behind and seemed unsure where the others had got to. I put some honey on the trunk of the wisteria which they eagerly gobbled. Then they too were off.
I am not going to guarantee you that you will never be stung, but just know that bees have to feel threatened before they will sting. That’s because a bee sting is not like a wasp sting. A bee can only sting once, but with a sting that bee will die. So they don’t take stinging lightly.
Most of us are aware that bees pollinate the majority of plants that then go onto become the food that we eat. Without them we would be in a world of hurt. They also give us honey. That delicious gooey golden goodness we take for granted. But for years now bees have been suffering from a frightening malady called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), wherein 30% – 50% of bee colonies have been dying or simply disappearing every year. The culprits are various, mainly, a mite called the Varroa (an exotic from Asia), poor diets, as much of the diverse native wildflowers bees used to dine upon have been paved over and they are forced to feed upon a monoculture plant like almonds, and the use of dangerous neonicotinoid pesticides manufactured to be sprayed on GMO crops (or their seeds) like Monsanto’s biotech corn.
So the next time you see a bee swarm, delight in the (sadly increasing) rarity of a wonderful natural event. Inform others as well. Let’s end the epidemic of fear and ignorance that is causing so much harm to our planet. And plant some wildflowers*. You’ll not only make yourself happy, but the bees will love you too.
*From seeds, preferably organic. I don’t recommend potted flowers as they’ve likely been sprayed.
Update: I realize from comments below that I should clarify something, not just for this post but others on this site as well. First, a relocation swarm is not the same as a sudden swarm of bees defending their hive. Next, in my urgings for perspective on perceived threats from the natural world I am not claiming that there are none. Of course there are. It’s just that often we humans tend to exaggerate them and amplify the relatively rare negatives to encompass our views of all of nature. That has had serious repercussions for the biosphere, and ultimately will for us. I hope that as a race we will begin to develop a calmer, more thoughtful, even appreciative view of the world around us. Then perhaps, if there’s still time, we will not be so at odds with nature but in harmony with it.
By the way, You can use Anamika (from the comments section) as your role model. Attacked by bees that had been provoked by others, yet still Passionate about animals and environment conservation.