There has been a buzz at the Custom House Museum in recent months, but it is not from a visiting artist.
An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 bees took up residence on the third floor, where they constructed a large hive in an attic space. Custom House management became concerned about the bees becoming agitated and attacking patrons and workers. Officials wanted the bees removed, but not exterminated, said Director Claudia Pennington.
Florida Keys Honey and Bees on Wednesday removed the bees, including the queen, and relocated them to the company's hives on Big Pine Key, where they will make honey for the company.
Bees serve an important function in the ecosystem, and Pennington did not want to upset the delicate balance of nature, she said.
"We like visitors, just not the ones that buzz and sting," Pennington said Wednesday before the removal. "We do not want to harm them. We just want them to leave. They have done nothing wrong. It's not their fault. They are just being bees."
In recent months, Custom House management kept the temperature at the museum lower than usual and workers working near the hive were encouraged to keep calm and quiet, as to not incite the bees, Pennington said.
"We tip-toed around because we did not want to irritate them," Pennington said.
Florida Keys Honey and Bees owner and beekeeper David Lewis subdued the bees with smoke, which calms them and initiates a feeding response in anticipation of hive abandonment due to wildfire. When bees gorge, their abdomens distend, making it difficult for them to sting, Lewis said.
Smoke also masks alarm pheromones released by guard bees. The ensuing confusion creates an opportunity for the beekeeper to open the hive and work without triggering a defensive mechanism.
This is the second large bee colony that Florida Keys Honey and Bees has removed in Old Town Key West in recent weeks. Lewis removed a colony of 60,000 bees from the side of an old home on Truman Avenue.
In many cases, the bees take up residence in vacant or abandoned homes, Lewis said.
The drop in the real estate market could be the reason why Lewis is seeing a rise in bee removals, he speculated, as the bees are taking up residence in foreclosed and abandoned homes.