For those of you who aren't glued to your computers all day, more than 40,000 bees swarmed a hot dog stand in Times Square on Tuesday afternoon, and thanks to a livestream on Reuters TV, people around the world watched breathlessly awaiting their fate. Passersby were rapt by the moving mosaic of insects until the New York Police Department cordoned off a part of West 43rd Street lest anyone be stung while trying to snap a pic. Then one man eventually approached the quivering mass. Dressed in full beekeeping suit and armed with something called a "bee-vac," NYPD officer Mike Lauriano successfully captured the displaced hive.
Usually the responsibility of protecting public areas from bee swarms is delegated to animal control departments, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, in New York and a few other cities, that job falls on the cops. Starting in 1995, a lone officer named Tony Planakis, a.k.a. Tony Bees, would don protective gear and corral them around the city. But since 2014, the job has fallen to just two city cops, Lauriano and Officer Darren Mays.
New Yorkers, who pride themselves on having seen it all, were undeniably curious about this previously little-known unit of their city's police force. Mays, who joined the force in 2001 and works the midnight shift at a precinct in Queens, caught up with VICE between fielding the public's newfound questions on Twitter. Although he's never gotten a call about bee-related crime, Mays was able to discuss the tricks of the trade and what it is he does all day.
VICE: How did you originally get into beekeeping?
Officer Darren Mays: Basically, I got into it back in 2008. I had a friend who started taking beekeeping classes. I found it kind of comical, so I called him immediately and laughed at him about it. But he said, "Just wait until you taste the honey I produce." He shared his honey with me, and it was the sweetest thing in the world. Then my wife bought me a kit that Christmas, and said, "Just give it a shot."
And how did you join this bee-specific task force? Is it a competitive thing?
What happened was there was always a beekeeper in the department. He retired, and they needed a replacement. So one guy that I used to work with overheard the operations coordinator for the department saying that, so he interjected that he worked with a guy who raised honeybees and would be a good replacement. That lieutenant said, "Have him call me tomorrow," and I ended up [helping] him to fill that void. Everyone else they knew of were exterminators.
How often do you get called away from your regular beat work to jobs related to bees? And what's the typical call?
Last year, we would get an average of maybe two calls a week. It's a seasonal thing that lasts anywhere from Mother's Day to mid or late July. The swarm the other day was an unusual, very late swarm. We've gotten some that were like 15,000 bees, which is a good, average size of a swarm. The biggest I've had to deal with was 35,000 bees up on Dyckman Street up in the Upper East Side back in 2012 or 2013 maybe.
How do you approach 35,000 bees? Is there anything you do before vacuuming them up?
You just got to monitor them and you got to gently work them slow and methodically. And this is an old thing I learned from the old-timers—you wanna speak to them. Ninety percent of the bees in the hive are females, so you just want to say to them something like, "Good afternoon, ladies. I'm just here to see if you're doing good. I hope you all work with me today." And letting them get the scent of you as well. They will attack you if you're being overly aggressive.
Why do they swarm specific areas? Was the umbrella appealing because it was brightly colored, or was it completely random? Is it just wherever the queen lands, they go?
Some people seem to think it's the color of it, but there's no rhyme or reason. If you Google pictures of swarms, you can see they may land on a bicycle that's parked on the street or onto a car. One thing we'll never understand as humans is why they swarm where they swarm. It's definitely wherever the queen lands. She picks a spot, and that's where they all land temporarily. Then scout bees go out and look for a permanent location. Once they establish the permanent location and all agree to go, that's when they'll take off and go again.
Where do the bees go after they get sucked into the bee-vac? Do they become property of the city?
Officer Lauriano took it to an apiary he owns in Long Island. If no one at the scene wants them or claims them at that moment, he has to take sole responsibility to take them in as his own.
Wait, what? Has anyone ever tried to claim a giant swarm of bees?
Not since I've been doing it, not since he's been doing it. No one ever says, "Those are my bees."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.