Thomas McReynolds, left, of Millport, Ala., and Pat Brock, of Vernon, Ala., calm bees with smoke outside the old railroad depot Wednesday. Construction workers discovered a massive bee hive under floor boards. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
March 25, 2016 10:59:02 AM
Construction workers renovating the old railroad depot on Main Street were abuzz Tuesday morning when they discovered a four-foot-long hive of bees.
"They were everywhere," said Gene Reid, a contractor whose company is doing the renovations.
Members of the crew had first heard the bees buzzing in the hive last year when they began renovations, but they got their first look at the enormous hive Tuesday when one of the workers removed floor boards on the stage near the bar.
Below the stage was the hive. And thousands of bees.
The hive measured about 16-18 inches wide and four feet long, Reid said.
Thomas McReynolds, an Alabama resident who came to help remove the hive, estimated that it contained between 30,000 and 40,000 bees and had been there about three years.
McReynolds has been removing bee hives from homes and buildings in the area for two and a half years. This was the biggest hive he's removed.
But he said it's not uncommon for wild bee hives to get that big.
"Where they're not disturbed, they'll just keep building until they get crowded," McReynolds said. "And when they get crowded and overpopulated, they'll raise a new queen and then the old queen will take part of the bees and go find another place to set up housekeeping."
Bee hives are made up of the queen bee, drones and worker bees, McReynolds explained. The queen bee mates with the drones to keep repopulating the hive because worker bees, who do the pollinating and building, don't live as long. Each bee needs the others, McReynolds said.
As the construction crew at the depot worked around him, McReynolds began removing bees about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. He used smokers to encourage the bees to disappear into the honey combs and then removed the combs and put them in a hive box, which simulates a natural hive. He worked until around 5 p.m.
He didn't wear a hat, veil or any other protective gear -- it just would have gotten in his way, he said. Most bees are gentle and won't sting humans unless the humans mash them or swat at them.
McReynolds left the hive box out for the bees to keep returning. It took the beekeeper two days to clear the hive and the bees from beneath the railroad depot's stage. The construction crew worked around them. Some of the workers were eager to take home pieces of the hive or the cones, Reid said.
"It was just fascinating to see them," Reid said. "I've never seen a beekeeper work before and it was pretty cool watching them work with their smoke and actually get in there with the hive and picking them up with their hands. The bees didn't bother him at all."
Three of Reid's employees were stung, but Reid says none of them were seriously hurt. On the other hand, a few bees were killed when construction workers sprayed the areas where they were flying out from under the stage before McReynolds arrived. Still, McReynolds successfully removed most of them, vacuuming up the stragglers on the last day with a bee vac, a machine that uses a gentle suction to collect straying bees and deposit them safely back in their hives.
"The last thing you want to do is hurt them," McReynolds said, adding that bees contribute to the production of up to a third of our food due to their roles in the pollination process.
The bees are now at McReynolds' home in Alabama where they have been lying low due to the rainy weather.
"They seem to be doing good," McReynolds said. "I'm tickled with them."
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