A Florida couple recently said goodbye to uninvited guests: a colony of 80,000 honey bees that had invaded their shower wall.
The size of the colony astonished even Elisha Bixler, the professional beekeeper that couple Stefanie and Dan Graham of St. Petersburg, Fla. Had enlisted to get them out of the predicament.
“There was honey everywhere: walls, floor, on my shoes, doorknobs,” Bixler said in an interview on Wednesday. “I had to lower the wall to the uprights to remove the entire comb. “
She estimated there were around 80,000 bees and 100 pounds of honey when she removed the seven-foot-tall beehive in early November after removing the bathroom tiles. The discovery was reported earlier by the Tampa Bay TV station FOX 13.
Ms. Bixler, 38, owner of How is your day darling said she had to put on plastic sheeting to try and contain the mess.
Knowing that something was wrong, the Grahams contacted Ms Bixler in October. This wasn’t the family’s first episode of bees at their three-story, wood-frame beach house, which sits on stilts.
Two or three years ago, Ms Graham said on Wednesday, her husband tore up the wall in the same bathroom and pulled out a giant beehive. Since then, they’ve had work done on their roof, which Ms Graham said left holes – an entrance for the bees to return.
The couple, their two children and two Great Danes had learned to cohabit with their guests, despite the occasional bee stings.
“We both really love nature and we love bees,” Ms. Graham said. “We say, ‘We’re going to leave you alone. You leave us alone. They were beautiful bees. So we were like, ‘Sure, go ahead, live in our shower.’ “
But the cohabitation had to end when the family decided to renovate the bathroom, said Ms Graham, 41, a high school English teacher who works part-time in real estate.
Ms Bixler said she was more used to removing beehives from roofs, sheds or trees.
“This is my first shower withdrawal,” Ms. Bixler said on Wednesday.
When Ms Bixler arrived at the family’s home on November 2, she said, she pulled out her trusty thermal detector gun that measures heat and pointed it at the shower wall. He showed the temperature to be around 96 degrees, which she said was typical for a beehive.
“As soon as I saw where they were, I started breaking the tile and unveiling this huge seven foot beehive,” she said. “It was mostly honey.”
Ms Bixler warned the Grahams that they might want to be scarce while she was removing the bees, a process she said took more than five hours at a cost of $ 800 that was not covered by the assurance.
“She walked into the bathroom about halfway down and took a look,” Ms Bixler said of Ms Graham.
Ms Graham said her family were not afraid. “I know a lot of people would be in panic,” she said.
At first, Ms Bixler, a professional beekeeper for three years, said she only wore a veil to protect herself from bees. But after several bites, she donned additional protective gear including gloves and boots.
Sifting through the bees, she finally discovered the queen bee, whose abdomen was twice the size of regular bees. She put the queen in a protective cage and put her in a box with the other bees.
“It makes all the bees go in the box with it,” Ms. Bixler said. “She wants to be back in her wall. She thinks it’s her house.
She used a special vacuum cleaner to remove some of the latecomers from the hive.
Robert Page Jr., professor emeritus of entomology at the University of California at Davis, said on Wednesday that smells from the previous bee colony would likely have drawn new bees to the shower wall.
There are major drawbacks to waiting to call someone to remove bees from a colony, said Professor Page, author of The Art of the Bee: Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies. He said bees can damage drywall and honey can ferment, causing odors that can attract ants.
“We love bees, but not when they’re in your wall,” said the professor, who has also taught at Arizona State University.
Ms Bixler has saved much of the honey, which she said she gave to the bees she rescued and keeps on her small urban farm in St. Petersburg. The Grahams saved some of the honey for themselves.
“I told them they had the option of just biting into that comb, or you could put it in a colander and just squeeze out the honey,” Ms. Bixler said.
Ms Bixler said she cared for the bees she had brought back to health and transferred them to apiaries.
Ms Graham said she had read many historical accounts of people telling bees about important stages in their lives, a ritual known as tell the bees. She too had become a bee whisperer, she said, including when her guests left.
“I said goodbye to the bees,” she said, “and they were going to have a new home”.