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Photos: Thousands Of Bees Went Nuts On A Downtown Chicago Bike This Afternoon

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jun 6, 2016 8:27PM

Updated 4 p.m.: A swarm of bees became the talk of the Loop this afternoon after thousands of them converged on a locked up bicycle and city bike pole, at the behest of their queen. We spoke to a bee specialist, below, who told us all about why there was such an unusual swarm of bees sitting around downtown.

The fluttering mass of bees drew a crowd of people to the corner of Madison Street and North Garland Court Monday afternoon around 1:50 p.m. As passersby and journalists speculated over the cause of the massive bee meet-up, local beekeeper Jana Kinsman arrived on the scene to scoop the bees up and carry them away to her workshop at The Plant in Back-of-the-Yards.

The bees had gathered on the red bicycle locked to the pole across from a Michigan Avenue Panera after their queen landed on the bike, according to the bike's owner, Sarah Lorraine Bradley.

The bees were mostly gone by 3 p.m. Monday, but dozens were still swarming around the bike pole and another bike. We steered clear of them, but Kinsman says she and her apprentice caught the majority of the bees, and the rest would go away "eventually."

As it turns out, this time of year is a kind of bee Christmas for beekeepers because of this swarming phenomenon, according to Allen Lawrance, the living invertebrates specialist at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. He told Chicagoist that the bees had likely just recently left a hive—possibly a downtown rooftop hive, like one you might in City Hall's rooftop garden—that was becoming too crowded. When this happens, a queen bee and a large number of aging worker bees will permanently leave their hive to find a new place to create a new hive. They usually settle on a temporary spot, in this case the downtown bike rack, to perch until they can agree on where to head for a more permanent home.

If Kinsman hadn't come for them, Lawrance speculated, the bees would have likely spent anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days on the pole. But they weren't particularly dangerous, he explained; when the bees are going through this process they are typically docile and less-likely to sting because they don't have a hive or brood to protect.

"While they're hanging out right there, there's a sort of Democratic process going on, where they'll decide whether they have found a new home," he said. "Scouts will go out looking for cavities to form their nest in, and then they'll all take off to find their new home."

Lawrance says encountering a swarm like this is a beekeeper's dream.

"This bee swarm is like Christmas time with it comes to beekeepers," he said. "if the beekeepers can catch the swarm, it is essentially a free hive that you can carry off to your bee yard. Lucky, free bees."