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On Assignment: Bees in the Wall

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Among the perks of being an extremely specialized photographer are the unusual, and unusually interesting, assignments. I recently had an opportunity to photograph a commercial bee removal company in action. They had been contracted to extract a sizeable colony of honey bees from the walls of a residence in Champaign, Illinois, and brought me along to photograph their operation.

The beekeeper poses with the problem. The top of the nest is visible with a couple stones removed, but how far in will the hive go?

The beekeeper moves in for a closer look.

Bee removals require a contractor's skills to dissemble (and later rebuild) the wall. The bees are surprisingly patient as the jackhammer chisels away the mortar.

Dismantling the wall.

The nest turns out to be massive, and this removal will require extensive rebuilding of the wall. Note the standard honey bee nest architecture: brood in the lower and center parts of the nest, and honey at the periphery and top.

With a contractor blocking their flight path to the nest, returning bees pile up in a holding pattern.

Bees are vacuumed off their combs for installation in an off-site hive.

The hive contained several pounds of ripe honey. Unfortunately, honey from house walls can't be used without knowledge of the chemicals the homeowner may have applied in fighting the bees.

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. TheHymenopteran 6:20 pm 10/2/2012

    Interesting work Alex. How did you come to land that work? Was it something offered to you from the bee removal company seeing your work or did you actively attain the job?

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  2. 2. Alex Wild in reply to Alex Wild 6:47 pm 10/2/2012

    Like much else in life, Tom, it’s all in who you know. I’ve been taking beekeeping students on field trips to that beekeeper’s apiary for a couple years now, so when he needed a photographer comfortable around bees he knew one to call.

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  3. 3. MorganJackson 12:45 pm 10/4/2012

    Awesome photo essay Alex! Were you outfitted with the full beekeeping suit? If so, how did you manage to work the camera, and if not, how did you keep from becoming a pincushion?

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  4. 4. Alex Wild in reply to Alex Wild 9:05 pm 10/4/2012

    Thanks, Morgan! I was shooting through a veil. Not the easiest thing to do, but it worked out ok. The bees were surprisingly mellow for such a large colony- they challenged me a couple times but none of the confrontational bees followed through with a sting.

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  5. 5. Neeroc 9:36 am 10/23/2012

    This reminds me of the Ontario home that started leaking honey earlier this year –

    I honestly did not know, until this year, just how ‘destructive’ bees could be. I’m also very glad we sealed up that crack in our wall when we noticed the bees heading to it this spring *g*

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