I have a honey bee story.

A few weeks ago, a swarm of honey bees appeared one morning on the edge of our deck. Like out of nowhere. No prior activity.

We were told that it’s illegal to kill honey bees, so our only option was to call a beekeeper to relocate the swarm. Even if it were legal to kill them, we would not have done that since honey bees play an important role in nature and are under enormous stress from a virus causing bee colony collapse.

In one of those “what’s the chance” happenings, a couple down the street from us are hobbyist beekeepers. They maintain their hives at local community farms. They also raise Queens.

We called them, and they rushed to our house because they really, really wanted the colony.

When they arrived, they diagnosed the problem. We had citronella candles just under the deck that had accumulated water, drawing out the lemon grass extract. That scent mimics the scent of a Queen bee. So the swarm arrived expecting to find a Queen, but there was none.

The beekeepers said that after a while the swarm would realize there was no Queen and leave, but it could take a couple of days.

They brought over a cardboard bee box, and put a scent in there that also mimics a Queen. Like an army getting its marching order, the bees rapidly filed into the box. Problem solved.

The beekeepers said they would give the colony a Queen and relocate them to a farm.

This is a long-winded way of presenting a “relatively” good-news story about honey bee survival (h/t Cameron Gray on Twitter). From Bloomberg via the San Francisco Chronicle, Good news for bees as numbers rise and mystery malady wanes:

The number of U.S. honeybees, a critical component to agricultural production, rose in 2017 from a year earlier, and deaths of the insects attributed to a mysterious malady that’s affected hives in North America and Europe declined, according a U.S. Department of Agriculture honeybee health survey released Tuesday.

The number of commercial U.S. honeybee colonies rose 3 percent to 2.89 million as of April 1, 2017 compared with a year earlier, the Agriculture Department reported. The number of hives lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon of disappearing bees that has raised concerns among farmers and scientists for a decade, was 84,430 in this year’s first quarter, down 27 percent from a year earlier. Year-over-year losses declined by the same percentage in April through June, the most recent data in the survey.

Still, more than two-fifths of beekeepers said mites were harming their hives, and with pesticides and other factors still stressing bees, the overall increase is largely the result of constant replenishment of losses, the study showed.

In my discussions with the neighbors, I learned how complicated the hive is. Really fascinating stuff.

It’s *almost* like they are a higher form of intelligence, as this recent article discusses, Technology tracks ‘bee talk’ to help improve honey bee health:

Simon Fraser University graduate student Oldooz Pooyanfar is monitoring what more than 20,000 honeybees housed in hives in a Cloverdale field are “saying” to each other—looking for clues about their health.

Pooyanfar’s technology is gleaning communication details from sound within the hives with her beehive monitoring system—technology she developed at SFU. She says improving knowledge about honey bee activity is critical, given a 30 per cent decline in the honeybee population over the past decade in North America….

“To learn about what bees are communicating, we can either look at pheromones—the chemical they produce—or sound,” says Pooyanfar ….

I also learned from my neighbors that Cornell has world-renowned researchers on bees at our agricultural school. Who knew?

So all ended well.

The honey bees found a new home. The beekeepers gained a new colony. I didn’t get stung. And I learned a lot.