In an unusual sight on Capitol Hill Friday afternoon, beekeepers were called in to capture and remove about 15,000 honey bees that had swarmed around the main Senate entrance of the U.S. Capitol Building, frightening onlookers before landing in a tree.
Three volunteer beekeepers, including one who is a top congressional aide, worked carefully but without protective suits to capture the queen and her thousands of offspring.
The bees had been out of their nest in search of a new, larger home, according to Rachel Perry of Capitol Bee Care, an organization that works to protect honey bee colonies that, for a variety of reasons, are dying off in large numbers. Wearing just a scarf hanging over her head, Perry sat patiently beneath the tree luring the bees into a hole in a medium-sized cardboard box that was sealed with gaffers tape, gently nudging with a brush the last stragglers inside.
U.S. Capitol Police officers, one carrying a large automatic rifle that probably wasn’t going to help him against the bees, cordoned off the area with yellow tape and kept passersby at bay. They gazed with amusement as the beekeepers did their daring work, a welcome distraction from their typical police duties. The beekeepers explained to the officers that no one risked getting stung because when bees leave their nests in search of another, they fill up with honey first, so they can survive the journey. Once packed with honey, they are unlikely to sting.
Lawmakers from both sides of the Capitol had left Washington after their last votes Thursday so they were not around when the bees arrived. Their absence meant that Cynthia Martin, a lawyer who is chief of staff to Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, was able to run over to the Senate side after getting word of the swarm.
Martin, who described herself as a honeybee hobbyist, hugged the other two beekeepers after loading the box of bees into her car.
“Thank you so much for your help,” she said. “My first swarm that I actually captured!”
Before pulling away, Martin said, “The only thing that is scary is when you’re driving and a bee gets loose.” She said she would bring them to her house to join another nest she already cares for in her backyard.
Martin’s interest in honey bees has led Conyers to push legislation in recent years that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to study whether certain approved insecticides are contributing to the demise of honey bees.