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City abuzz: Novice beekeepers blamed for recent swarms


amny Credit: Patrick Hedlund/DNAinfo

Three swarms of honeybees have descended on Manhattan neighborhoods in as many weeks, a freakish streak that is actually the surprising result of the legalization last year of beekeeping in the city, experts told amNewYork.

In a flash, beekeepers in the city increased almost tenfold, to some 250, experts said. The spurt was powered by growing popular interest and tutorial classes.

But many of these beekeepers, who tend to the insects on rooftops and in community gardens, are amateurs who easily lose control of their growing hives.

So far this year, swarms have descended on Little Italy, midtown, and most recently, Chinatown, on Monday.

"Without enough room to grow [in their own hives], the bees are making their own room," said Andrew Coté of the New York City Beekeepers Association. He has gotten more calls about swarms this year, likely because of legalization.

Beekeeping was outlawed in 1999 by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who put bees on an illegal critter list that includes lions, alligators and grizzly bears.

But after years of fighting what beekeepers called the "Bitter Years," along with support from former Councilman David Yassky, the practice was decriminalized.

Now most novice keepers generally have about two "hives" that can contain anywhere from 10,000 to as many as 100,000 bees in warmer months. Thing is, spring is prime time for swarms.

"When a beehive gets too full, you make a split and make another beehive. But if you're not watching it, they'll swarm and go looking for a new home," said John Howe founder of New York City Beekeeping, which now has about 1,200 members, most of whom are bee enthusiasts.

The bees have been drawn to objects such as lampposts and mailboxes, but these gathering places hold no particular fascination for the insects.

"It's just a place to hang out while the scouts look for another home" like an abandoned tree, Howe said.

But even with beekeepers popping up everywhere and bees swarming in droves, New York shouldn’t worry about stinging rampages.

"Swarms are absolutely of no danger to anyone," Coté said. "There's a perceived danger, but truly, they're docile, friendly and just looking for a home. They're down and out."

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