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70,000 very upset bees exposed after a tornado ripped down a rotting tree in Virginia

A tornado near Richmond, Va., cracked a tree, revealing a colony of 70,000 bees who were in need of a home. Researchers from the University of Richmond removed the bees and hope to bring them to campus.
A tornado near Richmond, Va., cracked a tree, revealing a colony of 70,000 bees who were in need of a home. Researchers from the University of Richmond removed the bees and hope to bring them to campus. University of Richmond

An outbreak of tornadoes across Virginia on Monday damaged buildings, uprooted trees and killed at least one person, WTVR reported. At least six of the destructive twisters touched down in the state, the Washington Post reported, likely caused by the remnants of Hurricane Florence as it passed through the area early in the week.

The chaotic weather toppled a tree near the University of Richmond’s campus on Monday, posing a hazard. But when a university work crew went to assess the situation, they suddenly needed to call for some scientific help.

“What they found was a tree that had rotted in the middle and was full of bees. Lots of bees,” said Karla Connelly, administrative assistant in the facilities department, according to a news release from the university.

That’s right. A whole tree, filled to the brim with buzzing bees. And they weren’t happy about their home suddenly being destroyed.

“The tree was cracked open, and it was a catastrophic situation for the bee colony inside, which I estimate was about 70,000 bees based on the amount of honeycomb,” said Kirstin Berben, a laboratory manager and beekeeper at the university, according to the news release.

People sometimes think bees only live in hives hanging from trees. But bees do sometimes move into the holes and cavities of trees as well, David Rodriquez said in an article for the Purdue University extension system.

“They usually cluster on a limb of a tree for several days while scout bees search for suitable cavities to nest in. They actually ’tell’ other bees where the cavity is by dancing on the surface of the swarm,” Rodriguez wrote. “If enough bees start visiting the cavity, the swarm will take flight and move in to start making new honey comb for their nest.”

Berben arrived at the scene and, with some help from landscape manager Karen Williams and electrician David Rodriquez, tried to figure out how to tackle the problem, according to the news release. They decided to suit up in bee garb and start taking apart the nest.

“We started picking up the comb and transferring clusters of bees into a large storage bin,” Berben said. “There was a large cluster that seemed to include the queen, so we focused on that.”

Pictures show the three bee-savers suited up and shoveling out bits of the hive, as well as the river of bees swarming inside the tree.

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Staff take apart the honeycomb, fully suited up to prevent against stings. University of Richmond

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Bees swarm inside the rotted-out tree. University of Richmond

For now, Berben plans to take most of them back home to her own beehives to recuperate — with the hope that they could eventually be brought back to campus, according to the university.

“If you relocate a colony too close to its original home, the bees may try to return, so I felt it was best to move them off campus for the time being,” she said.

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