Children’s Museum loses portion of hive

MARQUETTE — The Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum usually is a place full of happy tales, but this latest one isn’t so upbeat.

Museum Director Nheena Weyer Ittner said honeybees were brought into the museum at 123 W. Baraga Ave. about a month ago to live in an observation hive with an outdoor opening, with this being a popular annual activity.

As of late as last week, the resident bee colony was thriving.

“It was busy, busy, busy bees,” Ittner said. “And they were healthy. Our guests were thrilled to watch them. They were fascinating to watch.”

Checking out the bees also was one of the first things museum staff did in the morning.

The mood changed quickly when one of the employees last Friday noticed half the bees were dead. The hive then was whisked off to beekeeper Joel Lantz, of Skandia, who had provided the bees to the museum.

“They were fine the day before,” Ittner said.

She called the situation “sad, just terribly sad.”

Lantz, a member of the Superior Beekeeping Club, has a good idea about what happened.

“Anytime you have bees that died that quickly, there’s been most likely a pesticide issue,” said Lantz, who pointed out that no disease would be responsible for that type of mortality in such a short time.

The hive had 6 inches of dead bees along the bottom, he said.

“Bees, when they’re sick, they try to get out of the hive,” Lantz said. “They try not to infect the rest of the hive. That’s just a natural thing that they do. So, these bees were dying so quickly, it plugged the exit. They couldn’t get out, so they just piled up in there.”

He then removed those bees, some of which were so lethargic they would drop off from the upper part of the hive.

In the meantime, a few straggler bees were back in the hive as of Wednesday, possibly looking for their hivemates. Whether they will be returned still isn’t certain, but Lantz is confident about their survival.

That wasn’t the case originally.

“If you had asked me when I first saw them, I’d say, ‘I don’t think they’re going to make it,'” Lantz said.

Back in Skandia, he’s feeding sugar water and other natural things to boost the remaining bees. He also has found the queen.

“They are moving now,” Lantz said. “They are getting out. They are flying.”

There’s still the pesticide problem.

“I’ve put out a lot of feelers to see,” Lantz said. “A lot of people are doing it inadvertently.”

He suggests not using pesticides, or if they are used, to apply them at night so they can break down more quickly since bees are active during the day.

“Probably the best thing, if it’s homeowners, they really think one, two, three, four, five times whether they want to use it or not,” Lantz said. “Really no purpose to use some of these things.”

Ittner said that one year, honey was harvested from the hive.

“It was the most amazing honey I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I called it the ‘Rock Street Petunia Honey’ because it seemed like that’s where they were getting all of their nectar,” Ittner said.

As an organization, she said the hope is that people think before they put “poisons” in the environment.

Ittner said: “My feeling is, is that it’s some nice neighbor who wants a pretty lawn, and they are completely unaware of the externalities of doing something like that. They’re the unexpected outcomes, and this is such a dramatic example of an unexpected outcome.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.