Plan Bee: 15,000-strong colony delicately relocated

A colony of approximately 15,000 honeybees, which made their home in a weathered telephone pole near the Old Town Hall History Center in Melbourne Beach, was safely removed last week at a cost of just three stings.

Todd Snyder, owner and chief beekeeper of Snyder’s Bees and Honey in Rockledge, removed the bees, alive – without the use of toxic sprays – and relocated the colony to his farm.

Melbourne Beach Public Works Supervisor Tom Davis and his worker, Sean Hasner, assisted in the endeavor – and they received a bee sting each for their efforts, as did this reporter.

Snyder, who is Davis’ brother-in-law, provides paid bee removal services for both residential and commercial clients. But because he believes strongly in the ethical (live) removal of bees, Snyder offers free bee removal service to any parks and recreation department within the county. Currently, he provides regular free service to the town of Melbourne Beach and the cities of Rockledge and Cocoa Beach.

After receiving a few complaints from residents about numerous bees at Loggerhead Park, public works asked Snyder to remove bees from that location. The park is rich with sea grapes – which bees love and, according to Snyder, make the best honey.

But upon arrival, the colony was gone.

The team then made a bee-line down to the history center, where Hasner reported another possible colony.

Honeybee colonies have one queen, hundreds of male drones, and as many as 80,000 female worker bees.

Snyder located the hive in a downed wooden telephone pole in the brush near the center and found it was home to around 15,000 honeybees.

“If the telephone pole was accidently disturbed, the bees could become a danger to people or animals,” Davis said. “The town wanted the bees removed, but without use of toxic sprays or by any method that would cause harm to the bees.

Interim Town Manager Elizabeth Mascaro was hoping to be on hand when the removal occurred, but had a meeting scheduled at the same time.

“As a long-time gardener, I am very aware of the role all bees play in pollination. The discovery of a honeybee hive in the park was very exciting for all of us,” Mascaro said. “I think most all of us in town hall are pretty aware of protected species, like woodpeckers, bats, turtles etc. and how they should be relocated.”

Snyder has 75 hives located on his 5-acre farm in Rockledge, as well as others in Melbourne and Merritt Island. He became fascinated by bees at an early age after growing up on a farm where his family sold honey.

“I’ve always been very intrigued by bees and just loved them,” Snyder said. “They are very important to the entire world for pollination. Honeybees are the number one pollinator.”

On a national level, there are certain protections in place for honeybees, including the Pollinator Protection Act, passed in 2008, and the Pollinator Health Task Force, created in 2014. Both serve to promote education and research to enable a longer life span for honeybees. But there is no federal law in place making it illegal to kill honeybees.

If a property owner locates a colony on their land, they have two choices – have it removed live, or have the colony destroyed by a licensed pest control company. “We only do live removals,” Snyder said. “We do not kill bees unless it is an African colony.”

As a licensed beekeeper, he is trained to recognize African colonies, which are more aggressive than the European colonies. When disturbed, they are disturbed for days – not minutes. And they will often pursue invaders for over a mile. While a European colony may send out a small number of bees to protect the hive, resulting in a few stings, in an African colony, the entire population often goes after any perceived threat.

“As far as the European bee that we have here in the United States, they are so important to us as human beings because if we don’t have bees, we don’t have produce, we don’t have fruit, and we don’t have vegetables to eat,” Snyder said.

In the removal process, he said the No. 1 goal is to find the queen, because she is the heart of the hive. The queen is larger in size and the only fertile female.

“Once I have the queen, I can put her in a box and all those bees in the colony will follow over and go into that box where I have her,” Snyder said. “She gives off a pheromone and that pheromone is what they follow.”

Snyder and his team – which includes his wife Karen – then take the box to an apiary (a bee yard).

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