Notre Dame caught fire on Monday, incinerating the iconic cathedral’s wooden roof and causing untold damage.
But a colony of roughly 180,000 honey bees that lives above Notre Dame’s sacristy survived the flames, even as smoke consumed their hives.
“An ounce of hope!” the cathedral’s resident beekeeper Nicolas Geant wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “Drone photos show that the 3 beehives are still in place and seem to be intact!”
“Smoke, heat, water,” he added. “We will see if our brave bees are still with us as soon as we have access to the site, which may take a lot of time.”
Geant has tended to the colony since 2013, when three hives, contained in wooden bee boxes, were placed atop a stone section of the roof near Notre Dame’s southern end, the Associated Press reported on Friday.
On Thursday, Geant posted an exhilarated update: “Our bees at Notre Dame Cathedral are still alive!! Confirmation from the site managers.”
Carbon dioxide from the smoke, instead of killing the bees, “makes them drunk, puts them to sleep,” Geant told the Associated Press. (Smoking bees is actually a technique used by beekeepers to calm the insects.)
He explained that when bees are confronted with fire, they’ll “gorge themselves” on honey and remain still to protect their queen. And while bees can’t die from smoke inhalation, they aren’t immune to flames. Had the fire melted the protective wax around their hives, they would have perished.
Parisian beekeepers, called apiculteurs, have been cultivating hives in some of the city’s most historic monuments, including the Opéra Garnier, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Grand Palais, Atlas Obscura wrote last year.
Geant called the tragedy, which burned much of Notre Dame’s ceiling and destroyed its spire, “a big day” for the bees.
“I wouldn’t call it a miracle,” he said, “but I’m very, very happy.”