Smith BeesBy Cassy Sottile

News Editor

Last Wednesday evening, Sep. 26, Washington College’s William Smith Hall was closed through the weekend due to an infestation of bees in the attic and public spaces.

“For the past few years, a colony of honey bees has resided around the southeast attic soffits of Smith Hall, and the bees have been visible from outside the building. It appears that either a swarm from this existing colony, or another colony, found refuge inside the attic during the rainstorm last weekend,” permaculturist Shane Brill said.

Classes and activities were either cancelled or relocated around campus due to the bees.

“My discrete mathematics course with Dr. Feinberg was in the executive board room of Bunting,” sophomore Will Rotsch said. “We were given a small white board and projector to use for class. It was weird, but just another quirk of WC.”

“Having class there felt weird. I felt I had to be more cautious to make sure I did nothing that would leave a mark on the room. It was interesting to see students having the same type of behavior outside the classroom inside such a room as the Bunting waiting area. President Kurt Landgraf waited there, and also these guys in trucker hats,” Rotsch said.

Some classes were even relocated to the skybox at Roy Kirby Jr. Stadium.

“I enjoyed having class in the Skybox — I thought it was fun. We work in groups so the circular tables actually made a better work environment than Smith. Smith 301 is so crowded and the lap desks are very small. However, it was hard for Dr. Smith to give us a lecture on the small whiteboards in the skybox,” sophomore Julia Matsen said.

“It was hard to have a class that needed instruction in a location with only little whiteboards. The class is a big class, so it was hard to see at times. The views were pretty in the morning, and somewhat distracting when the men were trying to maintain the turf,” said sophomore Summer Black, another organic chemistry student.

“I have been scooping out handfuls of bees I’ve found on the third floor and carrying them outside. They are thirsty, exhausted and with no home or family to defend; they will not sting unless threatened,” Brill said.

On Monday earlier that week, students discovered numerous dead bees on the third floor of Smith. By Wednesday, the bees had infested the building. The bees inside Smith Hall do not appear to cluster around a queen, which implies that she is dead.

“Often when bees swarm, they’ll form clusters around their queen where they hold onto each other in a giant ball. It’s easy for beekeepers to pick up the ball of bees and relocate them in a box. Our hope is that with the lights in Smith Hall off, many of the bees will cluster together, and we can remove groups that coalesce,” Brill said.

According to Brill, the bees are trying to find their way outside and are attracted to light, which is why Smith Hall was closed.

“Because they don’t fly in the dark, when the attic lights are off they crawl toward ceiling lights or windows visible through tiny gaps in the attic floor. Every bee we see downstairs is simply struggling to fly out a window or dying with exhaustion from the effort,” he said.

WC is Bee Campus USA-certified, which means the bees cannot be exterminated. This certification commits WC to a set of practices that support other pollinators besides bees, including butterflies, birds and bats. Brill and WC plan to relocate the bees from the attic and introduce them to the campus garden apiary.

“There’s a technique of placing the new bees in an empty hive box on top of the existing colony, and separating the two groups with newspaper sprayed with simple syrup. Once the relocated bees and the established colony chew openings in the sugary paper, their first meeting will be laced with sweetness and they will amicably accept each other as members of the same colony,” Brill said.

In an email sent to the campus on Sunday, Sept. 30, it was announced that William Smith Hall, with the execption of one classroom on the third floor, reopened on Monday, Oct 1.

“On the third floor, room 332 will remain closed for additional cleaning,” Director of Public Safety Brandon McFayden said in the email. “As autumn is an intensely busy time for bees, those with bee allergies should exercise caution on campus and carry any allergy medication with them.”

Students and faculty who have classes in 332 should receive communication from the registrar about their class relocation.

“WC experienced an epic bee swarm, which consumed Smith Hall that began in the attic and expanded throughout the entire building. Due to the responsible decision of WC staff members to close Smith Hall, any personal injury was avoided. Though we experienced some unfortunate bee loss, vast numbers of honey bees were rescued and returned to the hive,” Will Gale of Wildlife Damage Control said in a press release.

“Although the closing of Smith Hall presents a disruption to the regular rhythms of activity in the building, I’m grateful to the folks who made that decision and the many students, faculty, and staff who have expressed their understanding, concern and sympathy for the bees. We’re adapting to the rhythms of the natural world and, in doing so, showing ourselves as responsible stewards of the place we inhabit,” Brill said.

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