Virginia Tornado Snaps Tree, Releases 70,000 Bees

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Photo courtesy of Univ. of Richmond
Photo courtesy of Univ. of Richmond

Hurricane Florence and the storms it spawned created havoc in many places throughout Virginia and the Carolinas this past week; however, when a tornado touched down in Virginia’s capital city on Sept. 17, it wasn’t the dangers of high waters or damaging wind that was at the forefront of the minds of many students at the University of Richmond but instead an estimated 70,000 bees which had been disturbed.

According to university officials, a large tree fell across Towana Road near the school’s campus and as staff responded to the scene to assess the damage and remove the tree, they were met by an unthinkable situation:

“What they found was a tree that had rotted in the middle and was full of bees. Lots of bees,” said Karla Connelly, administrative assistant in Facilities.

The staff immediately contacted Kirstin Berben, laboratories manager in the biology department. Berben is one of two campus beekeepers and helps oversee UR’s beekeeping program.

“The tree was cracked open, and it was a catastrophic situation for the bee colony inside, which I estimate was about 70,000 bees based on the amount of honeycomb,” Berben said.

After collecting the needed equipment, Berben, along with campus electrician David Rodriquez and landscape manager Karen Williams suited up and got to work.

“We started picking up the comb and transferring clusters of bees into a large storage bin,” Berben explained. “There was a large cluster that seemed to include the queen, so we focused on that.”

Berben, who also maintains beehives at her house, then transported the bees to her home six miles away from campus.

“If you relocate a colony too close to its original home, the bees may try to return, so I felt it was best to move them off campus for the time being,” Berben said.

Berben hopes this colony can join the existing hives back on campus sometime in the spring after she ensures they are healthy.

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