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East Islip home has massive hive with 120,000 bees

A thermal image of the honey bee colony,

A thermal image of the honey bee colony, estimated to contain 120,000 bees Credit: Anthony Planakis

An East Islip man heard a buzz coming from the wall of his house. It turned out to be a honey of a tale.

That's bee-cause an examination of a corner wall in Nicholas Sarro's Division Avenue home by leading metro-area bee expert Anthony "Tony Bees" Planakis recently found a hive measuring 7½ by 1¼ feet — home to an estimated 120,000 honey bees. It's one of the biggest hives Planakis had ever seen.

"It's a lot of bees," Planakis said.

You might've thought the hive would been removed and that'd be that. But, "Tony Bees" said, it was too late in the season to move the mass of pollinators. Set to go into hibernation mode, they wouldn't have time to reestablish new colonies elsewhere and would die off.

So, on the advice of Planakis, Sarro and his wife, Sandra, elected to let the hive remain. For now.

Planakis said he'll move it come April.

"If they were roaches or bedbugs or anything else I would've called an exterminator," Sarro said. "But honey bees? Einstein said if the bees go, so does man. I'm not smarter than Einstein, so I'll take him at his word."

A retired shop teacher in the Brentwood Union Free School District, Sarro, 68, said he and his wife bought the house a week before they got married in 1980. He replaced the windows and the roof and over the years did a bunch of handiwork. Then, a few years ago, his son Nicholas heard a buzz coming from the guest room.

"He heard this noise, opened the door, and bees were swarming everywhere," Sarro said.

So, Nicholas did what any good son would do: He closed the door, packed a towel into the opening under it, and hung a note.

"Room Full of Bees," Sarro said it read. "Don't Open the Door!"

Sarro said he consulted with local beekeepers from whom he and his wife bought honey and was told since the swarm was honey bees, not a threat like wasps or yellow jackets, he didn't need to destroy the hive. He could move it.

Instead, Sarro decided to let nature take its course.

So, after some of the swarm of bees in the room died off from crashing into the windows, he aired out the room to let the others escape. Once they'd gone, he vacuumed up the dead bees and sealed the interior opening to the room, which once belonged to his daughter Kristen but now serves as a guest bedroom.

The hive in the wall? He let it be. Or, bee. 

After a while, Sarro figured the hive had died out.

"It was in the dead of winter, during a snowstorm, and I went out to get the Newsday like I always do and all over the front lawn were these little dots [in the snow]. Each was dead honey bees."

That was that, he thought. Except, it wasn't. 

Sometime this fall, Sarro wanted to re-roof the house. During the estimate process, he said, he and his contractors discovered the honey bees had returned.

Actually, Planakis believes the hive might've just gone dormant until new bees bumbled upon it.

"He told me the smell of the honey and the wax," Sarro said of the assessment given him by Planakis. "He said that scout bees got the scent and decided it was a good location … I guess I should've caulked it," he said, referring to the opening in the outside stucco wall where the bees entered.

Since Sarro needs a new roof, he needed to get the hive removed once and for all. He called around; no one wanted the job.

"Nobody would return his call," Planakis said, "because it was the end of the season and if you move the bees now they're definitely going to perish … In fact, when he called me my first reaction was, 'How am I going to convince this guy to wait until April to move them?' If I take them out now, they're definitely going to die."

Planakis didn't get the nickname "Tony Bees" for nothing. A retired NYPD detective, he'd been the cop other cops turned to remove bees on nuisance calls.

Still, when "Tony Bees" took a thermal imaging device to the wall, he was surprised at how big a hive it really was.

"He's got to move it," Planakis said, "because before long it's going to attract other species. Wax moths, honey beetles. Soon, it'll be overtaken and rodents will start coming in looking for pollen and honey."

It'll be a big job, now planned for the spring.

"It's going to take surgery, believe it or not," Planakis said. "That's what it comes down to."

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