Cape Girardeau elementary school buzzing with bees

Friday, April 24, 2009 | 2:19 p.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Things are buzzing at Franklin Elementary School in Cape Girardeau — literally.

A series of honey bee swarms have formed on trees near the school in the southeast Missouri town. But because honey bees are federally protected, a beekeeper has been brought in to remove them, rather than exterminate them.

Beekeeper Mike Biri has made at least five trips to remove swarms from the school property. He says bees are common throughout downtown Cape Girardeau.

So far, the bees haven't caused a problem at the school. In fact, principal Rhonda Dunham said the children think it's exciting — something of a live science lesson.

Dunham said the bees cannot get from under the eaves into the brick school building. When the weather gets cooler and the bees become sluggish, she plans to have a specialist remove the hive and seal up the remaining opening.

Dunham used bright yellow caution tape to remind students, parents and teachers not to go near the swarms. She said no one from the school has been stung.

"They were not bothering us, I walked by one of them, within a foot, and nothing happened," she said. Still, she checks the school grounds several times a day and calls Biri every time she spots a new swarm.

Biri said bee breeding season started a few weeks ago, but each colony responds at different times, sometimes as late as July. He believes the bees created a home beneath the school's eaves about five years ago.

Each spring, a hive makes between one and five new queen bees, depending on the size of the hive, Biri said. The weaker queen leaves to form a new colony and takes a passel of protective worker bees with her. They swarm around the queen while building a new hive.

Biri, who also is a water tower plant foreman in nearby Jackson, often gets calls for help after a homeowner with a bee problem calls police or fire departments. He doesn't charge for bee removal services.

"I appreciate them calling me," he said. "I generally lose a few hives every year and I get to repopulate mine."

Jeremy Soucy, a naturalist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said swarming is typically caused by an overcrowded hive. He said the situation at Franklin Elementary seems to be unusual.

Biri said the first thing people should do if they see a swarm is give it room and "give them a chance to live."


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