City Desk

D.C.’s Honeybees Need Your Help

If you see a swarm of bees in D.C. this spring, don't run. Instead, call your local beekeeper.

The honeybee deaths have soared in recent winters thanks to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder, which is why, for the third year in a row, the DC Beekeepers Alliance is reaching out to the public to ask for help to save any surviving honeybees in need of a hive. Recent winters have killed about 30 percent of the nation's honeybees, says the group's founder, Toni Burnham, and this winter was probably even worse thanks to the polar vortexes that swept through much of the country.

"Most of us [beekeepers] would really like to really support the pollinators in the world and honeybees are the only real pollinator that people can manage," Burnham says.

So what explains the surge in homeless bees? Burnham says it typically takes at least 20,000 bees in a hive to keep each other warm and survive the winter. The colonies that do survive often grow too big to fit in their hives, forcing thousands of bees to migrate to a new home. It's not easy for a bee to find a new home, Burnham says, and they're often killed by humans in the process. That, in theory, is when the Alliance steps in.

"We show up and say, 'I've got a home for you to go to,'" Burnham says. "We take them and say, 'Look at your new condo,' and the bees usually say, 'Yay!'"

Burnham is asking the public to email email dcbees@dcbeekeepers.org with sightings of bee swarms. She plans to give all the bees that she personally captures to community gardens.

Because of plummeting bee populations, local beekeepers have been having a hard time actually getting bees, according to a notice from the Alliance. The bees that survive the winter are particularly desirable because they're thought to be strong and adaptable.

And don't worry: Burnham says honeybees typically only sting people when they're protecting their hives. Since these swarms don't have a hive, they likely won't sting.

Bee swarm photo via Shutterstock

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