Buzzwork: Workers find bee hive in Barnwell city hall during renovations

 Workers discovered weeks into the renovations of what will be the new city hall for Barnwell that the building was still occupied.

Not by two-legged creatures, but ones with six legs, wings - and stingers.

Wild bees had built a hive in a chimney of the building.

In the past few years, the number of documented wild bees has dropped, an occurence that has puzzled researchers.

With that in mind, Chris Pritchard with Querey-Pritchard, the building contractor for the city hall renovations, wanted to be sure these bees lived to see another day.

"I think Chris Pritchard went out of his way to save those bees. Others would have poisoned them and gone on," said John Zawacki, the Barnwell city administrator.

So the search began for a beekeeper - George Wells.

Wells has been a beekeeper for more than 10 years and has several domestic hives at his home. His work with bees is in his genes. Wells grandfather and mother were bee keepers as well, he said.

Crews from Query-Pritchard dislodged the chimney that the bees called home and lowered it to an adjacent parking lot to await Wells.

Brick by brick, Wells carefully dislodged each one to expose the hive. As he worked more bees began to swarm around, most eventually landing on Wells.

Wells was protected by a beekeeper's suit which included white overalls, gloves and a screened hood that zips onto the coveralls.

"I don't go without one," he said of the suit.

Once most of the hive had been exposed, bees could also be seen swarming near the site on the roof where the chimney had stood.

Until the renovations started on the building, no one knew the bees were silently making honey in the chimney.

 Wells raises bees domestically in special hive boxes for their honey.

Beekeepers can harvest the honey from the bees up to twice per year, although some keepers only harvest once in the spring, he said.

During the winter months, bees are not as active and there is not a lot of food available so keepers "feed" the bees, he said.

The "food" is a sugar water mixture. This helps sustain the bees until the spring when their natural food is plentiful, he said.

Sometimes keepers have to purchase additional bees to maintain the hives as well.

Wells has bought some bees and they are shipped to him through the mail. When they arrive, someone from the post office usually calls him to say they have a "buzzing package" waiting on him, he said.

He has even had to leave work and go get the "package" because the post office employees were afraid the bees would escape.

The queen bee is shipped in a small container. The container has screen wire sides and is plugged at one end with a wax substance, he said.

Back at the hive, Wells said he would pierce a small needle through the wax and put the container into the hive. Worker bees then begin to bore out the remaining wax to free their queen.

Wells said this process allows the bees within the hive to "get to know" the queen before she is actually released into the hive.

Each wild hive, as in the case of the bees at city hall, can contain 20,000 bees, although domestic hives are sometimes smaller.

Within the hive there are of course, male and female bees, each with a specific job.

One female is the queen bee. She is a little larger than her other female counterparts and has a straight non-barbed stinger.

The other females are sterile and are worker bees. The younger of those, called house bees, take care of the hive. The older females, called field bees, search for nectar.

All of these females have a straight, barbed stinger which can only be used once. After using the stinger, the bee dies.

The males, known as drones, have no stinger. During their short life span, usually eight weeks, their sole purpose is to mate with the queen.

Bees are very important because they pollinate plants and need to be safely removed if found in the wild, he said.

As to the reason the number of bees is declining, Wells said, "Clemson is still trying to work on it."

Clemson University is working to understand the decreases in bee populations.

Wells offered some advice for anyone finding wild bees.

First, be careful, especially if one is allergic. They can be deadly if someone is allergic, he said.

Wells encourages people finding bee hives to notify someone to get the bees out without harming them to preserve their numbers, he said.

"They do all the pollination," he said. "Without them we would not have blooming flowers or watermelons or other vegetables. You've got to have bees to pollinate."