Bees Move in When Employees Work from Home

20,000 bees inhabit walls of California software company during pandemic

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek February 16, 2021
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bees working in beehive

​There was a buzz of activity at Invoca, even though the 150 employees at the Santa Barbara, Calif., data analytics software company had vacated the headquarters in March to work remotely. While they were away, a new group set up shop—a colony of 20,000 honeybees living and working in the walls of the offices.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not slow them down; the bees produced 10 gallons of beeswax, honey and pollen during their six-month stay, according to Dee Anna McPherson, chief marketing officer.  

The problem came to light when an employee, who has periodically checked on the building during the pandemic, noticed a few dead bees during one visit. After noticing more over the course of the next several months, Invoca contacted a local bee removal company to conduct an inspection.

Armed with thermal imaging equipment, the crew at Super Bee Rescue and Removal discovered honeybees living within the second- and third-floor walls. An older honeycomb indicated other bees had moved in years earlier. Bees were entering the property through a hole about 3 inches wide that had been drilled through brick for an electrical or utility outlet, according to Nick Wigle, owner and operator of the bee removal company.

During their inspection, Wigle's team watched the hole for a few minutes and noticed bees flying in and out.

"They're kind of sneaky, like ninjas," Wigle said. They are able to enter a cavity as small as 1/8th of an inch wide and can make their way in through pot lights in the ceiling, false ceiling tiles and gaps in the drywall, he explained. They also are somewhat exploratory and a few will try to find another exit, which is what led to their discovery at Invoca. A beehive extracted from within the walls of Invoca. Photo: Super Bee Rescue and Removal

When a building is occupied, though, the smell of honey can be a tip-off that bees are on the premises. Bees fan their wings to dry the nectar, creating airflow around the honeycomb and helping water evaporate. On a warm day, the aroma of honey may be detected wafting through the air, Wigle said.

"We think all of the time, as an executive team, of the contingencies" in safely managing the property, McPherson said, "but clearly this is something we never could have imagined."

Bees moving into an office building is not something that happens often, Wigle acknowledged.

"If I had to guess, a building will get a beehive about once every 25 years in our area," and climate can be a large factor. "Our area is one of the areas where you can have this [issue] year-round. One of the biggest issues that cause bees to [enter] a building … is having deferred maintenance. If your building is in good condition, it's less likely to have holes in it" that allow pests such as ants, bees and woodpeckers to enter. "We suggest doing a yearly inspection of your building for all the various issues that can be going on."

Wigle's crew removed the bees, pollen and honeycomb—a 10-hour process over two days. A mixture of beeswax, honey and pollen was removed from the interior of office walls. Photo: Super Bee Rescue and RemovalThe pollen and most of the honeycomb were saved for the bees to rebuild their hive, and the hive of bees was relocated to a hospital apiary at Super Bee Rescue and Removal. After a month of specialized care, some bees are given to organic farms and bee "foster parents." And yes, fostering bees is "a thing," according to Wigle. Celebrities such as Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Beyoncé have their own hives.

Invoca kept a portion of the honeycomb—about the size of a dinner plate—and gave it to its IT manager, who used the honey. 

The experience prompted a flurry of bee puns on Invoca's internal Slack channel, McPherson said.

"It definitely brought a lot of levity to the office."

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