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Dear Matthew Alice:

Recently my partner found himself standing inside of a huge swarm of bees on Midway Drive, near the Sports Arena-West Point Loma Boulevard intersection. He described the swarm as about as tall as a two-story building and as wide as Midway Drive. He said he first saw a shadow approaching and then realized the bees were so solid they blocked out the sun. He and several others took shelter in a nearby building until they passed, heading toward Ocean Beach. When I mentioned this to a co-worker, she said she had seen similar swarms on several occasions in the same area. What's with these bees? Are they migrating? Looking for food? Where do they live when they're not hanging out in OB? How many bees are in a swarm that size?

-- Nancy J, the net

So, Nancy, were these OBees carrying coolers and little beach chairs? Sounds like Zonies on Fourth of July weekend. Or something out of one of those 50s horror films with bugs amok in a small Midwest town, where the sheriff drives a Plymouth and the hysterical populace turns to the scientist from the nearby university to help them, but his beautiful daughter gets carried off to the gigantic hive in a cave outside of town, and the handsome cub reporter saves her, but not before nearly drowning in honey and ruining his hat, which remains on his head no matter how furious the action becomes.

Sorry. Don't know what happened there. Anyway, if we're dealing with bees, we'd better check in with George Jones, the county ag department's go-to bee guy. He's seen it all. All except a two-story tall, four-lane wide swarm. In his own soft-spoken way, Mr. Jones suggests that when people see a swarm of 8-, maybe 10,000 bees, their eyes get big and they go all googly, and their sense of proportion takes a hike. The beach-bound bees were looking for a new home. The old one didn't suit for some reason. Overcrowded maybe. So part of the old hive took off with a new queen. Mr. Jones doesn't know that there's anything in particular that would attract bees to that area, tho he does say he's removed three large swarms in the OB-Sunset Cliffs area since December. Two of the swarms were Africanized, he says casually. If you don't disturb their nests, they won't disturb you.

Bees don't migrate exactly, but when they change homes, they move as a swarm. It can look a little spooky if you've never seen one before. Unless you're in the middle of traffic at the Sports Arena area, you'll hear the swarm before you see it. First a loud, ominous hum, then a roiling ball of bees moving like a school of slow fish. Startling, not dangerous. County ag has a honey bee hotline, where you can leave questions about the fuzzy guys (800-200-2337). But if you have a batch o' bees on your property, don't call Mr. Jones, don't call county ag, and definitely don't take things into your own hands. Call a private extermination company that knows how to handle them.

New Bee News

Charlie Edmonds of downtown San Diego sends this follow-up to last week's discussion of the OB bees. "Last fall a swarm of bees entered an apartment on Cortez Hill. The professional bee removal expert said they had been attracted to that particular apartment because the occupants had used lemon-scented Pledge furniture polish. They were seeking a lemon grove." The bees that zoomed in the apartment window weren't swarming or looking for a new home like the OB bees, they were foraging for nectar. Bees find it mainly through smell. Any sweet scent -- perfume, aftershave, soap, shampoo, scented candles, chewing gum, fruit, soda cans -- will attract foraging bees or wasps or hornets. In the unpromising concrete jungle of downtown, I'm sure lemon Pledge smelled like a banquet.

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