Our friend Jason has a beekeeping hobby. Yesterday he invited us to come watch him "split the hive" and even though we weren't 100% sure what that meant, we were pretty sure we'd get to see a beehive up close. We couldn't resist. When we got there, he and the rest of the hive team (his mom and a cool bee guru friend of theirs) were all decked out in serious bee-garb which was a little off-putting. We were told we'd be ok as long as we didn't wear black (which for us is actually really hard, but we found some white shirts and were feeling pretty brave). We got briefed that the way to survive being around a hive without protection is to wear white and move very slowly, and remain calm even when they come buzzing around you. No sweat. I set up the tripod and got within about 10 meters and started shooting away.
Evidently this "hive splitting" thing is a what beekeepers do when their hive has become overpopulated. In the wild, bees will do all by themselves: A big group will just suddenly pack up and fly off together to set up a new hive someplace else (this is what swarms are by the way). The trick with doing it yourself is that you have to end up with a queen in both the new hive and the old hive. I'm not sure why, but apparently the current queen needs to stay with the original hive and a brand new queen can be introduced to the 'new' hive. But to make sure you aren't moving the queen, she has to be located. And based on what we saw, that's what 90% of "splitting the hive" amounts to: a big queen hunt.
There are over 10k bees in a hive and one queen and she's not that different looking (her ass is larger and a slightly different color). The first step in finding her is to divide the original hive in half by putting a kind of queen-screen in there that everybody but the queen can slip through (she can't fit on account of her huge ass). Then you just see which side gets new eggs, and that's the side with the queen. Easy. But when Jason and his teammates tried this they couldn't find the eggs and had the hive open long enough that doubt was introduced—she may have split, been squished in all the handling, or something else.
So they had no choice but to go through the entire hive slowly and closely, trying to get a visual on her royal highness herself. This was going to take a while and the bees were getting more and more furious with the whole thing. The tone of their buzzing takes on a far more threatening pitch and gets louder. More and more bees were coming over to try to scare me off but I had the secret weapon: don't move & stay calm. Still it was getting harder and harder to keep my heart rate under control...the bees were being really aggressive. Some got tangled in brenda's hair and that understandably drove her inside. Perfect evening to have a shaved head :)
But my attitude did a 180 when a bee got stuck between my eyebrow and the eyepiece of my camera and it stung me like crazy. Then another one swooped into my eye and got tangled in my lashes buzzing like crazy. I lost it and shook them off violently..staying calm and moving slow went right out the window. I sprinted my ass off back to the safety of the house. I'd like to say that was the worst of it. But later, when the queen was found and the hive splitting was a success, the bees weren't done being pissed off. I was just standing there minding my own business and one mean bastard worker bee flew right directly into my right ear. DEEP! And it started trying to get deeper! I completely lost my shit. I started dancing all around making all kinds of girly noises. My heart rate was probably 200. The buzzing was unbelievable, it sounded and felt like it was almost into my brain before I finally got a grip on the little shit and yanked him out and threw him. Incredibly I didn't get stung.
My takeaways from the evening: Beehives are awesome. It's hard to find a queen. Don't go near a beehive when it's being split without protection. Having a bee in your ear is about the most terrifying thing that can happen to you.