Yellow rain: but whose bees did it?
Although it is late fall here in the northern hemisphere, it is late spring in New Zealand. Down there the honey bees are rocketing from nest to nectar and back again, feeding their young and leaving telltale yellow splotches everywhere.
Earlier this week I received a fascinating e-mail from a man on the northern end of the South Island who it trying to help an elderly beekeeper friend. The beekeeper, who maintains five hives, has been called before the local district council to answer a complaint about bee excrement. He is being accused of letting his little darlings defecate on his neighbor’s windows.
The real issue isn’t always obvious
Right away I suspected this was more of a neighbor problem than a bee problem because these disputes usually are. It turns out I was right—in a previous complaint the neighbor attested that the beekeeper’s house is four inches too high. Obviously, the neighbor needs to get a life, but I digress.
The man who wrote—not a beekeeper—says his elderly friend is non-confrontational and requested help with the district council. He, in turn, asked for my help. So here are the facts as I understand them:
- The five hives are within 80-100 meters (260-330 feet) of the neighbor’s property line.
- Although these hives are the closest to the neighbor’s house (the target), about 30 other managed hives belonging to other beekeepers are within a half-mile of it.
- The surrounding area is heavy with bumble bees, other native bees, and wasps.
- Pollen is particularly heavy this year, and it drifts onto window sills and other surfaces.
- The district council has already decided these five hives are the problem and it has threatened to use DNA analysis to prove it.
And this is the way I see it
- A half-mile is nothing for a honey bee. Any of the 35 colonies could be hitting the target house.
- The distance from the target is not as important as the direction of travel. So, if the bees have found a good nectar source to the south, for example, it may be the colonies north of the target that are marring it. This will change constantly, of course, as different things come into bloom.
- With honey bee season in full swing and forage plentiful, any number of swarms may have nested in the area. The target neighbor could have a feral nest on his own property and not even know it.
- The native bees are also dropping feces. In fact, in some years I have seen it dripping down the front of my mason bee houses like mustard.
- I don’t believe anyone is going to do a DNA analysis of bee poop. For one thing, it’s way too expensive. But even if the target neighbor is rolling in money, what would DNA tell him? A newly issued swarm and its parent colony are going to have virtually the same genetic make-up, so how do you decide who done it?
Anyway, that’s where they stand at the moment. Apparently, the district council in its infinite wisdom will be examining the situation on Friday and I hope my correspondent tells me the outcome. In the meantime, I’ll tell you a little secret: The neighbor makes me wish I could fly.