Thom Bees

Beekeeper Thom Haines shakes bees into a box from a swarm on the back of the P’Zaz building in downtown Salem.

A swarm of bees on a downtown salon building has a new home on Highway P after a local beekeeper was called in to remove them.

P’Zaz hairstylist Tamara Stephens called the University Extension when she spotted the swarm high on the back exterior wall of her building July 14. She was referred to local resident Thom Haines, a member of Mark Twain Beekeepers, for help.

“She said she had a huge swarm out there and it was very high,” Haines said. He went to the rear of the building on West Fifth Street and spotted the swarm, estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 bees, clustered on the bricks in one spot amid the English ivy.

Dressed in full protective gear, Haines climbed up a ladder and shook as many bees as he could into a box, then went up again with a smaller box, trimmed some ivy away, got more bees and transferred them to the secured larger box on the ground.

“I went up two more times to make sure got as many as possible and didn’t miss the queen,” he said. The queen bee secretes pheromones, which are chemical messengers the other bees sense and follow to wherever the queen is. Securing the queen was vital to bringing the swarm back to his farm to start a new hive, Haines said.

“Swarming is how they populate,” Haines said. “If they always stayed in their hive, the bee population in general would never grow. The way the bee population propagates itself is by swarming, leaving behind a new queen to take over the old hive, and the old queen takes half of the bees with her and starts a brand new hive, and that’s how the bee population actually grows.”

During the winter season, a queen forms a new colony by laying eggs within each cell of a honeycomb. Fertilized eggs will hatch into female worker bees, while unfertilized eggs will become drones or honey bee males.

“Almost all the bees in hive are girls, with only a handful of guy bees or drones,” Haines said. “And their only purpose is reproduction.”

Worker bees are always female. They collect pollen, feed other bees and protect the hive. A beehive contains anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 bees—and only one of them is a queen. A queen bee lays eggs to ensure the hive’s future. Worker and drone bees only live for a few months.

Queen bees can lay over a thousand eggs every day. Most queens live for about five years. As she ages and her egg laying slows, the worker bees choose up to 20 of the fertilized eggs to be potential new queens. When these eggs hatch, the workers feed the larvae a special food called royal jelly. This helps larvae to grow larger than the drone and worker bee larvae.

If she’s not kicked out of the hive by the workers, the old queen takes off just before a new queen emerges. The new queen eliminates other potential queens, still in the larvae stage, to take over the hive.

In that scenario, the old queen leaves to starts a new hive, where the swarm “will go on to make new bees and propagate and make honey and pollinate and all the good things bees do,” Haines said.

The swarm on the P’Zaz building was looking for a new place to operate, and now they have it.