Nova Scotia

'Swirling tornado' of 20,000 honeybees found and returned home

A swarm of about 20,000 bees that flew away like a "swirling tornado" from the backyard of a Halifax beekeeper Tuesday have been found and are safely back in their home hive.

Hot weather makes hive feel more crowded and some will flee to increase chance of survival

A swarm of about 20,000 bees that flew away like a "swirling tornado" from the backyard of a Halifax beekeeper Tuesday have been found and are safely back in their home hive. 0:48

A swarm of about 20,000 bees that flew away like a "swirling tornado" from the backyard of a Halifax beekeeper Tuesday have been found and are safely back in their home hive.

The swarm was located beside a house on the shore of Whimsical Lake, roughly half a kilometre away from the honeybees' home in the Fleming Heights neighbourhood near the Dingle.

Lorraine Simmons-Yerian, a member of the Halifax Honeybee Society, had appealed for help finding her bees after they suddenly left her hives on Tuesday, swarmed and flew over her house, disappearing out of sight.

That same day Faye Duggan got a call from her Whimsical Lake neighbour saying he thought there was something in her tree. 

"He thought it was an animal but it wasn't moving so he said, 'I think it's a swarm of bees.' So I got my binoculars and I looked and sure enough, it was a swarm of bees," she said.

'I watched every second of it'

At first, Duggan wasn't sure what to do so she called the city. They said they couldn't help and recommended she hire an exterminator.

"But I didn't want to do that. So then on CBC — my sister called me at 8 o'clock this morning — and said, 'Faye, I think there's a number on CBC about the bees.'"

Duggan then called Simmons-Yerian.

Simmons-Yerian's husband, Jim Yerian, drove to Duggan's home and climbed a ladder to a tree limb where the swarm had gathered around the queen. He carefully cut the limb and lowered it down to his daughter.

"He has his little daughter with him and they were all geared up in their white suits," Duggan said. "The little girl was there helping him and it was just, it was incredible. I watched every second of it."

The swarm was found on a tree branch near Whimsical Lake. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Yerian gently shook the swarm into a large, plastic container and returned home.

"The population is like a super organism and it wants to make two [colonies] so that's the way it makes two," he said.

"The old queen takes half of the population, 50 or 60 per cent of the bees, away. Meanwhile, she's already laid the egg for her successor and it's just about ready to hatch."

Simmons-Yerian said Tuesday she thinks the hot weather was a factor in the bees fleeing. When temperatures rise the hive feels more crowded, she said, and a portion of the bees will leave to increase their chance of survival. 

A swarm doesn't often move far from the hive — 20 metres at most, she said. But this time it flew out of sight.

'Beekeepers love it and hate it'

Yerian said swarming can be a great for beekeepers who want to expand their hives but it can also be a problem if half the bees go missing. 

"Beekeepers love it and hate it," he said. "It's a great way to re-queen but nobody likes to lose half their hive because it's half the honey production, half the pollination for us."

Yerian said he's pretty confident the group will stay put for now.

In terms of the threat from the wayward insects, Simmons-Yerian said that was relatively low because after a swarm the bees are "the calmest and most docile of any time," and generally will not sting unless they're provoked. 

If you ever see a swarm and aren`t sure what to do, Yerian recommends getting in touch with either the Halifax Honeybee Society or the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association

With files from Craig Paisley, Olivier Lefebvre