A Florida couple recently said goodbye to some uninvited guests: a colony of as many as 80,000 honeybees that had invaded their shower enclosure.
The size of the colony surprised even Elisha Bixler, the professional beekeeper who hired the couple, Stefanie and Dan Graham of St. Petersburg, Fla., to get them out of the plight.
“Honey was everywhere: walls, floor, on my shoes, doorknobs,” Ms Bixler told an interviewer Wednesday. “I had to pull the wall down to the studs to get all the comb out.”
She estimated there were about 80,000 bees and 100 pounds of honey when she removed the seven-foot-tall hive in early November after prying off the bathroom tiles. The discovery was previously reported by Tampa Bay television channel FOX 13.
Ms. Bixler, 38, the owner of How’s Your Day Honey, said she had to put down plastic covers to try and contain the mess.
Knowing something wasn’t right, the Grahams contacted Ms. Bixler in October. It wasn’t the first episode of the bees family in their three-story wooden beach house, which stands on stilts.
Two to three years ago, Mrs. Graham said Wednesday, her husband tore open the wall in the same bathroom and removed a giant beehive. Since then they’d done work on their roof, which Mrs. Graham said left holes – an entry way for the bees to return.
The couple, their two children and two Great Danes had learned to live with their roommates, despite the occasional bee sting.
“We both really love nature and we love bees,” said Ms. Graham. “We’re like, ‘We’ll leave you alone. You leave us alone.’ They were nice bees, so we were like, ‘Sure, go ahead, live in our shower.’”
But the cohabitation had to end when the family decided to renovate the bathroom, said Ms Graham, 41, a high school English teacher who works part-time in real estate.
Ms. Bixler said she was more used to removing hives from roofs, sheds or trees.
“This is my first shower removal,” Ms. Bixler said Wednesday.
When Mrs. Bixler arrived at the family’s home on Nov. 2, she said, pulled out her trusty thermal detector gun that measures heat and pointed it at the shower wall. It showed that the temperature was around 96 degrees, which she said was typical for a beehive.
“As soon as I saw where they were, I started to break away the tile and reveal this huge seven-foot-tall beehive,” she said. “Most of it was honey.”
Ms. Bixler warned the Grahams that they might want to make themselves scarce while removing the bees, a process she said took more than five hours and cost $800 not covered by insurance.
“She came in about half way into the bathroom and took a look,” Ms. Bixler said of Ms. Graham.
Mrs. Graham said her family was not afraid. “I know a lot of people would panic,” she said.
At first, Ms. Bixler, who has been a professional beekeeper for three years, said she was only wearing a veil to protect herself from the bees. But after stabbing her several times, she donned extra protective gear, including gloves and boots.
While searching the bees, she eventually discovered the queen bee, whose belly was twice the size of regular bees. She put the queen in a protective cage and placed it in a box with the other bees.
“That makes all the bees go into her box,” Mrs. Bixler said. “She wants to get back in her wall. She thinks that’s her home.”
She used a special vacuum to remove some stragglers from the hive.
Robert Page Jr., professor emeritus of entomology at the University of California at Davis, said on Wednesday that the smells of the previous bee colony would have likely attracted new bees to the shower wall.
Waiting to call someone to remove bees from a colony has major drawbacks, said Professor Page, author of “The Art of the Bee: Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies.” He said bees can damage drywall and the honey can ferment, creating odors that can attract ants.
“We like honeybees, but not when they’re in your wall,” said the professor, who also taught at Arizona State University.
Ms. Bixler has preserved much of the honey, which she claims to have given to the bees she rescued and keeps on her small town farm in St. Petersburg. The Grahams kept some of the honey for themselves.
“I told them they had the option to just bite that comb, or you can put it in a colander and squeeze the honey out,” Ms Bixler said.
Ms. Bixler said she cares for the bees she rescues and moves them to apiaries.
Ms. Graham said she had read many historical accounts of people talking to bees about milestones in their lives, a ritual known as telling the bees. She, too, had become a bee whisperer, she said, even when her roommates left.
“I said goodbye to the bees,” she said, “and that they got a new home.”