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Biker Bees Invade Drag, Caught in Honey Trap

Wandering colony captured via stealthy ‘sting’ operation
Sarah Mortimer, 9:00am, Tue. Jun. 10
About 20 people gathered on the Drag Saturday afternoon, as Tanya Phillips – owner of Bee Friendly Austin Apiary (Certified Naturally Grown) – lured a hive of bees away from a parked mountain bike and into a honeycomb-filled box.
Tanya Phillips, Bee Wrangler at Work
Photo by Sarah Mortimer

“C’mon girl, almost there,” Phillips counseled her quarry, as she waved a last black-and-yellow squatter onto her honey trap – an effective method, she said, of attracting bee swarms away from public areas.

Phillips said she’d received a call about noon from the Austin Fire Department about a bike on Guadalupe, just opposite UT’s West Mall, that had been colonized by a swarm of bees. Firefighters had quarantined the area with yellow caution tape earlier that day. “They called about an hour ago and told me to come down,” Phillips said, dressed in a beekeeper’s bodysuit and mesh helmet.

Vendors at the 23rd Street Artists’ Market said the excitement began about 11am, when firefighters arrived to cordon off the bike, as pedestrians stopped to shoot phone pix of the bees. James Baggett, a silversmith and jewelry vendor, said he called the police about noon when he became concerned about mothers walking their strollers into the busy street to get around the caution tape.“That’s when I thought this was a public safety hazard,” he said.

Sergeant Carlos Dominguez arrived with a fellow officer to adjust the tape, and announced that a beekeeper would be on her way to clear the bees. Dominguez said he didn’t believe the swarm posed a danger. “I’m from the desert and I know about bees,” Dominguez said, just before a car slammed into the back of another across the street.

“OK. Let’s go,” he said to his partner – and the two ran off towards the accident.

Phillips, a beekeeper who with her husband keeps backyard hives, said she occasionally performs swarm removals around the city. Typically, she said, bees swarm shaded areas like trees and building undersides, and she has never before seen a swarm colonize a bicycle.

Phillips loaded her quarry into a white foam cooler and emerged stingless; she said only two bees had been lost in the transfer. “It was pretty peaceful,” she said. “They weren’t very aggressive, but we’ll see about that when we get them in the truck.” Presuming they didn't make a break for it, the bees’ new home will be Phillips’ southwest Austin backyard, where Phillips hopes they will continue to pursue their productive line of work.

The colony’s Queen Bee was unavailable for comment.

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