The Kansas City Zoo is getting a little bit of a buzz lately — just not the kind zoo officials would prefer.
They recently met with bee advocates to brainstorm a response to a recent congregation of honey bees that have chosen to gather around the food court.
During the meeting, zoo staffers learned the issue might be tied to the seasons.
While the zoo’s trash bins regularly collect sodas and other liquids loaded with the sugar the insects crave, they become a more attractive option for bees looking for sweets when their regular sources start to run dry, beekeeper and meeting attendee Ross Murphy said. When the natural nectar starts becoming scarce during either a drought or the cooler months of the fall, the bees start to get creative with their sourcing.
Beekeeper Kelly Strother witnessed this firsthand on her visit about a month ago.
She saw what appeared to be a few hundred bees lingering around the zoo’s trash cans. Strother said the bees became aggressive toward a group of kids playing around the trash bins and stung at least one. On the same visit, she heard a zoo employee talk of being stung, too.
“Once you got out of (the) Africa (area), they were fierce,” Strother said.
Julie Neemeyer, a spokeswoman with the zoo, said no incidents of people being stung were reported to the zoo. She said the meeting was prompted by visitors observing excessive numbers of bees hovering around the trash cans.
While a bee’s sting might be nothing more than a temporary pain for some, it could be dangerous for people who are allergic, Strother said.
Strother, Murphy and the other bee advocates said they were pleasantly surprised with how receptive zoo personnel were to not only taking on the bee problem, but also protecting the insects as well.
Strother said the zoo staff would immediately begin building a perimeter of feeding stations for the bees that will lure them away from the trash bins. Up to 46 stations will be available around the zoo, intercepting bees before they make it to the trash bins.
She also offered natural bee repellants to the zoo staff for the trash bins. Strother said she demonstrated a solution that includes lavender oil and citronella on one of the most heavily populated trash cans.
“There were probably around 100 bees around this one trash can alone,” Strother said. “As soon as I put the oil on the lid, immediately they left.”
Engineering a creative solution to the zoo’s bee swarm is especially necessary given the alarmingly high rates at which the insects are dying off. Murphy said there would need to be perhaps 100,000 more beekeepers working to bring the species up to healthy population levels.
Because the zoo has no dedicated beekeepers or large hives nearby, Murphy speculated that the bees congregating around the zoo’s trash cans may be a particularly tough class of insect.
These feral bees may carry “survivor genetics,” Murphy said, a possibility that gives special weight to the need to protect them.
The bee advocates will meet with zoo officials later this fall to check on the abatement measures, and also to continue designing a beginner’s beekeeping course targeted to children.