July 24, 2015 by wagnerfreeinstitute
The city of Philadelphia is abuzz with anticipation for Pope Francis’ arrival in September. If all goes as planned, this will mark the second Papal Visit to Philadelphia; the first was Pope John Paul II in 1979. His Parkway mass drew an astounding 2,000,000 people. But humans weren’t the only animals that came out in droves—according to a recent article on Billy Penn, swarms of bees also descended on the mass, seemingly out of nowhere, stinging several people.
We can’t corroborate this story, but figured we’d share some information about swarms of bees just in case…
Swarming behavior in bees is a natural part of their reproductive cycle when an aging queen leaves the hive with an army of workers. The swarm settles as a dense cluster in a temporary resting place, such as a tree, while scouts seek places to build a permanent home. While frightening looking, swarms are quite harmless as the bees have a laser focus on their queen and are trying to conserve energy. Furthermore, swarming typically occurs in spring.
The alleged swarm during John Paul’s visit probably had other causes. The sheer quantity people may have led to absconding—when an entire bee colony abandons their hive, usually due to some disturbance. This would lead to a swarm of hiveless bees and inevitable stinging of anyone in their path. Nectar shortages also cause aggressive behavior known as robbing—when bees raid other hives to steal nectar. Furthermore, fall is when bees prepare for the winter, making them especially sensitive to disturbances like crowds.
Before you worry about swarms taking over Pope Francis’ visit, remember that, despite stings and aggressive behavior, bees are essential to the ecosystem and agriculture, and deserve our respect. (Also, it’s pretty unlikely that this would happen again.) Pope Francis himself has called for protection of the natural world both for physical survival and spiritual welfare, and tenacious devotion to one of our ecosystem’s most essential species would truly honor his tenets.