Normally, when the Billings Police Department’s Animal Control unit gets an emergency call, it’s about a menacing dog or a runaway pet.
On Sunday, they were called about a swarm of wild bees in the yard of a home on Broadwater Avenue.
And, they knew just what to do.
They called the Yellowstone Valley Beekeepers Club.
Sheryl Cox, a club member and veteran beekeeper, was ready. She describes herself as a “swarm chaser” and keeps the gear she needs to round up hordes of bees handy in her car.
“It’s such an adrenaline rush when you get a call like that and dive into a swarm of bees,” she said Monday afternoon.
Sunday’s swarm must have been blown out of a tree onto the lawn of the home on the 2500 block of Broadwater, scattering the bees in the grass, Cox speculated.
She had brought an empty beehive with her. The trick to getting the bees to fly willingly into the beehive is to catch the queen bee and put her inside.
To find the queen, Cox sprawled in the grass, unprotected, her head surrounded by a buzzing halo of bees. If you stay calm, the bees stay calm, she said.
“And, it calms me down to be on the ground playing with the bees,” Cox said.
It doesn’t hurt that the bees are essentially stuffed on honey, like after Thanksgiving dinner, said beekeeper and club member Steve Collins.
With the warmer weather, May heralds the beginning of “swarm season,” he said.
Healthy beehives naturally grow in population to the point they need to split. The bees leaving for a new place will gorge themselves on honey while scout bees hunt for a new place to build a hive.
“So, they’re pretty fat and happy, hanging out for the scout to return saying we found a new home,” he said.
Once the queen was found, placed in a “queen cage” and then placed in the empty hive, the bees start moving in.
“The minute they know where the queen is, it’s game over, they start marching in,” Cox said.
The business part of Sunday’s bee roundup took about an hour. When she was done, Cox placed her noisy, newly full hive in her car and drove home.
It’s finders-keepers when it comes to capturing wild bees. Whichever beekeeper responds to the emergency call and corrals all the unwanted bees gets to keep them. For a beekeeper to buy a swarm the size of the Sunday’s buzzing mass would be about $140, Collins said.
Beekeeping in Billings was prohibited a few years ago. To help persuade the Billings City Council to allow the practice, members of the beekeepers club volunteered to respond when Animal Control got calls about unwanted swarms, Collins said.