Bees swarm at Franklin Elementary School in Cape Girardeau

Friday, April 24, 2009
Beekeeper Mike Biri watches a box containing a swarm of honeybees that he knocked out of a tree limb Thursday in front of Franklin Elementary School. (Fred Lynch)

A live science lesson is underway at Franklin Elementary School in Cape Girardeau. Principal Rhonda Dunham said a series of honey bee swarms has formed on trees near the school.

"You cannot call an exterminator because honeybees are federally protected," she said. "So we called a beekeeper."

Bee breeding season started a few weeks ago, according to Jackson beekeeper Mike Biri, but each colony responds at various times, sometimes as late as July. Biri has made at least five trips to remove swarms from trees on Franklin's property.

"I do believe there's more than one colony, at least two," he said, estimating that the bees had created a home under the school's eaves about five years ago.

Dunham said the bees cannot get from under the eaves into the brick school building. When the weather gets cooler and the bees become sluggish, she plans to have a specialist remove the hive and seal up the remaining opening.

Honeybees swarm on a tree limb Thursday at Franklin Elementary School. (Fred Lynch)

Each spring, a hive makes between one and five new queen bees, depending on the size of the hive, he said.

The weaker queen leaves to form a new colony and takes a passel of protective worker bees with her. They swarm around the queen while building a new hive.

Dunham used bright yellow caution tape to remind students, parents and teachers not to go near the swarms. She said no one from the school has been stung.

"They were not bothering us, I walked by one of them, within a foot, and nothing happened," she said.

Dunham checks the school grounds several times a day and calls Biri each time she spots a new swarm.

Biri, a water tower plant foreman for the city of Jackson, said he's made at least 10 swarm removal trips this year, but couldn't estimate how many he'd brought back.

He is usually dispatched after a homeowner calls police or fire offices to get help. Public safety officials then call any of a handful of local beekeepers who bring a man-made hive which attracts the swarm. He doesn't charge for bee removal services.

"I appreciate them calling me," he said. "I generally lose a few hives every year and I get to repopulate mine."

Downtown Cape Girardeau seems to have bees everywhere, he said.

"The children think it's exciting," Dunham said. "It's a really great science lesson."

Jeremy Soucy, naturalist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said swarming is typically caused by an overcrowded hive. He said the situation at Franklin Elementary seems to be unusual.

Sara Turner, education specialist for the Missouri Conservation Department, maintains a small demonstration hive in Cape Girardeau and said some of the bees come from swarm rescues. And, she said, naturalists have had their own challenges in managing bees. Once, the nature center's bees used a tiny opening in the hive and swarmed inside the nature center.

The Conservation Center hosts an Insect Mania program on July 24, which includes a section on honeybees. Soucy and Turner said honeybees are not typically aggressive, though they are more active during the afternoon.

Dunham said swarm formations can seem like art. One, she said, was "the most beautiful piece of work you've ever seen, just one on top of another. They surrounded the queen bee, protecting her. When the wind was blowing, the whole thing just swayed a little."

Biri said the first thing people should do if they see a swarm is give it room and "give them a chance to live."


Pertinent Address: 215 N. Louisiana Ave. Cape Girardeau, MO

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