Have you ever seen an observation hive? It’s a vertical hive with plexiglass walls. You can watch the workers bring in pollen and daintily scrape it off their hind legs into a cell, see the queen lay eggs, watch brood hatch out, all the things that you just don’t get to see in a regular hive. They are really, really cool! I have a 3 frame observation hive that I keep in the middle school science class. It’s always my favorite to fill with bees, there is nothing on TV as good as “The Bee Channel”. The 5th graders ALWAYS want to come watch the bees and find the queen. This year, to make it easier, I decided to mark the queen. This consists of getting the queen out of her cage in to a “queen marking tube” and putting a dot of paint on her thorax. Sounds easy enough, right?
I had everything I needed at hand, I thought…………The key thing I didn’t remember to do was to Duck tape my pantlegs to my boots. As soon as I dumped the package of bees into the observation hive, I remembered! There were plenty of bees in the air, and on the deck….and on my boots. Not a big deal, really. Continuing the job, I shook the package empty, and as the loose bees began to make their way towards their fanning sisters, I picked up the queen in her cage, ready for marking. Feeling utterly confident in my skills, I opened the queen-marking tube, and popped the cork out of the queen cage. BZZZ!!! And, oh crap! She was gone! I looked on the deck at my feet, searching through the dozens of bees crawling around. No queen. I began checking the arms of my suit, the bees on the bench, the railings…..No queen. I coulda kicked myself. Continuing the search, I poked through the deepest clusters in the hive itself, No queen. Back to the crawlers on the deck, the side of the house, No queen. About this time, my 8 year-old peeking through the sliding glass door said “Hey Mom, there’s a bunch of bees on your back!” I turned to look at my reflection in the door. Sure enough, there was a baseball-sized cluster of bees on my back! I knew immediately where the queen was! Awesome, right? Not really. I tried turning my jacket sideways far enough to reach the cluster, but it wasn’t happening. My options for queen retreival were pretty limited. With a disgusted sigh, I grabbed my jacket by the shoulders and gave it a good hard shake. The cluster fell, with about half the bees going into the air. Now I was back at square one, looking for the queen.
It was about this time that I really missed that Duck tape. BZZZZ! Those bees on the deck? They were crawling onto my boots, and right inside my pantleg! I began my comical “get the hell outta there” leg shake, much to the amusement of the kids watching from inside. Trying not to step on any bees, knowing the queen was again MIA, I shook a couple more out of my pants before pulling up my pantleg and scraping the stinger off. As the fire set in to my leg, I began my search again, and within seconds, saw the queen on the deck, inches from my boot. Yay! I scooped her into the marking tube, and primed the marking pen. About this time, I started to feel a familiar heat and burn in my ears…….Anaphylaxis. Quickly, I dotted the Queens thorax with white paint and unceremoniously dumped her into the hive, slamming the door. Getting dizzy and nauseous, I continued the bee-leg shake and took off my gloves and veil as I hurried back into the garage. Ahh, liquid (AKA fast-acting) Benadryl. I chugged straight from the bottle, a dose (or three?) and sat down. Updating the kids on what happened, I retreived my Epi-Pen, hoping to not have to use it. By this time, the boys, (10 and 11) were in the truck honking. They were going to drive me in my 5-speed mazda the 12 miles to the hospital! Hahaha, um, no, but Thank you! I told them that if need be, we’d just call 911. I’m not the kinda girl that calls 911. Sitting back down with my Epinephrine close at hand, I began the “C’mon, Benadryl” chant. The boys stood in front of me and helped me scratch my head, which felt like it was in an ant hill. So far, so good, no trouble breathing……sore throat, but not swelling profusely yet. My eyes were burning, swelling and itching. C’mon, Benadryl. The boys discussed proper technique and placement of the Epi-Pen should I happen to fall over, and did “rock, paper, scissors” to see who would get to give me the shot, and who got to call 911 as they continued scratching my head. C’mon, Benadryl. I could feel it starting to kick in, and knew I’d be okay. Within a few more minutes, my head stopped itching, although my eyes felt like I’d been in a firefight. Somewhat to their dissappointment, I told the boys we weren’t going to be needing either the shot or 911. Time to get back to work……. Checking to make sure there were no bees still on my jacket, I put it back on, and retreived the observation hive. Bringing it inside, and shucking my jacket again, the kids were lined up wanting to see the queen with her white dot. Hmm, no queen on this side……no queen on the other side….What the heck? Did she fly away AGAIN? I was sure I got her inside! Then I saw her…….Bees were packed tight against the plexiglass, in a big tight knot around her. They hadn’t accepted her as their queen yet, and were basically suffocating her. I could see her abdomen squished up against the glass, and she was unable to move with the workers balling her. ARGH!! Still feeling fairly lousy from the sting reaction, and quickly getting very tired from the Benadryl, I put my jacket back on, and ran out the backdoor with the observation hive. Opening the door to the hive, I picked up that whole cluster of bees, and began flicking angry workers off the queen. They were pretty persistent, but I managed to get her back inside her cage. The poor thing was shaking and breathing heavy, but alive! The cage itself went in the hive this time, guess those 5th graders will just have to wait a few more days to see her!
All’s well that ends well, right? I went to bed with a half-inch thick welt on my now super-sized leg, feeling pretty darned lucky overall!
1 package hived, 22 to go……stay tuned!