Honey, we're home: How a case of mistaken ident-a-bee landed this CBC reporter 40,000 new friends

CBC reporter Carolyn Stokes thought she had a wasp nest in her wall. She wasn't far off, but the ending is happier this way.

It's like the bees knew Carolyn Stokes would give them a good home

Carolyn Stokes thought she had wasps in her wall. Turns out, it was much, much more. (Carolyn Stokes/Twitter)

When CBC's Carolyn Stokes first noticed what she thought were wasps flying around her home in St. John's, she thought she had a big problem on her hands — not 40,000 new friends. 

It turned out the house guests were not wasps but honeybees. They weren't initially invited over, but after a dramatic rescue Stokes decided she's keeping them, tucked away in a hive all their own.

"It was meant to bee!" she said — pun intended.

DIY investigation

After noticing a lot of buzzing around one of her St. John's home's dormer windows, Stokes used a drill and a camera to have a look inside the plaster.

She tweeted out the results, and a guess about what she'd found.

"Exploring the inside of a wasp nest!!" she wrote.

The tweet generated a lot more buzz than she thought it would. 

People wrote to say the insects were honeybees, not wasps. And since she'd just covered a honeybee rescue at the Avalon Mall, Stokes knew exactly who to call.

'We really need our honeybees'

Beekeeper Paul Dinn said he'd never seen anything like her situation.

'Thirty to fifty thousand?!' Stokes finds out how many bees might be living in her wall. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

"It's the first one I heard of possibly in the province of extracting them from someone's home," Dinn said.

The bees Stokes had in her wall were an established colony, not just a swarm, and he thought there could be anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 of them.

Paul Dinn rescued thousands of honeybees from Stokes's home. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Dinn proposed a resettlement of the bees to the Adelaide's Honey Bee, Pollinator and Wildflower Reserve, which he runs with his wife Brenda Dinn.

Holding on to the bees is important. Newfoundland honeybee populations are thriving while beekeepers in the rest of the country are struggling with disease and pests in their hives, he said.

"We really need our honeybees," he said. "We've got to really protect and cherish them."

'Squish 'im!'

The rescue plan was simple: cut out part of the wall and get the bees into a hive, then take the hive to the bee reserve.

The execution? Maybe a bit more complicated, especially with a CBC (Cee-bee-cee?) camera crew in the way.

Everyone, including the CBC camera operator, had to be in protective gear. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Dinn got everybody into protective suits, warning them that if a bee got under the protective veils over their faces they'd have to reach up and give it a pinch.

"Squish 'im!" he said.

"I hope that does not happen," Stokes said.

Just like after Sunday dinner

It's important to stay as calm and as quiet as possible around bees, Dinn said, noting that'd be pretty difficult in this case: the crew would be sawing out a chunk of Stokes' wall.

He had a smoker ready to make the bees dopey when the honeycombs were exposed.

Dinn gently releases smoke into the wall. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Bees communicate by pheromones, he said, and the smoke interferes.

"The smoke dampens that, so they can't get the word out that there's a problem."

A colony of honey bees (about 40,000) were found living on the top floor of CBC host Carolyn Stokes's St. John's home. Paul and Brenda Dinn of Adelaide's Honey helped Carolyn take the bees into their new, temporary home. 4:22

It also sets off a panic response in the hive — the bees will think there is a fire threatening their home.

When bees panic, they gorge themselves on honey in case they do have to pack up and move..

"And when they do that, it's like us after a Sunday meal," he said. 

"They're right luggy and they're laying on the couch and they're relaxed."

Nice combs, honey

Once the plaster came off, Dinn took a look inside the wall.

"I see the comb and it looks great! It looks great," he said.

Dinn started looking for the queen so he could place her in the hive he'd brought. Once she was squared away, he said, all the other bees would follow her lead.

"Start thinking of a name for the queen now," he said. His final estimate on the number of bees in Stokes's wall was 40,000.

It was dark by the time Dinn was ready to transport the hive to his reserve, but the bees won't be at his place for long.

In two weeks, they'll be back where they came from, at Stokes's house in downtown St. John's. She's adopting the hive, fulfilling a long-standing dream to have bees of her own.

"I've always wanted to keep bees," she said. "I'm a gardener!"

And with returns like these, who could blame her?

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes