A man doing yard maintenance at a church in Chesterfield County, Virginia, stumbled on something experts are calling both rare and strange: An entire honey bee colony clinging to a chainlink fence without a hive.
Video of the bees was posted on Facebook by Virginia Wildlife Management & Control and it has since been viewed 16,000 times.
The discovery is an “extremely rare” example of Italian honey bees living unprotected out in the open, said the agency, which specializes in the removal of pests.
“I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been in this business 39 years,” said Richard Perry, of Virginia Wildlife Management & Control. “To be completely honest, I have no answer for what caused it, since we’ve never encountered it before.”
The colony was found by a man doing maintenance at Victory Tabernacle Church of God in Midlothian, south of Richmond, Perry said. “He looked up and saw them, and almost had a heart attack,” Perry told the Charlotte Observer.
Some bee keepers say they’ve seen this type of behavior before, particularly in areas of the country with milder climates, and it may be the result of the bees not reaching a consensus on a more traditional, safer place to settle. “The bees had some shelter with the above trees and they are much more resilient than you think,” said Nicole Palladino of Bee Catchers Inc.
Efforts are underway to save the colony, which would not have survived the winter without some kind of protective hive, Perry says.
The colony was “extracted” from the fence Wednesday, to prevent the rain and winds of Tropical Storm Michael from destroying the bees, he said. They have been placed in a hive box and taken to a private site for monitoring during the winter, the agency said.
He says the church congregation intends to let the bees live on their property, once the colony is stabilized.
“They bees appear very weak,” said Perry. “If everything goes well, we can turn (the bees) back over to Victory Tabernacle Church of God, where they can take the task of raising them.”
Italian honey bees are “the most popular” variety of bee in North America, known being productive and mild mannered, according to PerfectBee.com. They don’t easily withstand cold weather, says the site.
Perry says his agency typically finds Italian bee hives tucked inside buildings, including sheds, garages, attics and even inside walls of homes.