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Thousands of Bees Descending on NYC's Times Square Reveal a Tumultuous Hive

“Bees don’t swarm without warning."

Amid the 95-degree heat suffusing the hellish epicenter of New York City, a swarm of bees 30,000 strong descended on a Times Square hot dog cart on Tuesday, prompting the intersection to shut down. The surreal images, live-streamed from the scene by Reuters, might as well be figments of heat-induced delirium: Bees carpeted the awning so thickly that a masked, gloved man from the New York Police Department had to be called in to suck them up gingerly with a vacuum.

It’s not something you see every day, but it’s also not something no one’s ever seen before. Such immense swarms, bee experts explain, are usually a sign of change in a nearby hive.

“There’s two reasons why it happens. It happens from overheating or overcrowding, or a combination of the two,” Andrew Coté, owner of local company Andrew’s Honey and beekeeper, tells Inverse. Coté was on the scene for three hours with NYPD officials, helping to deal with the swarm. “Today was over 90 degrees, so it might have been both.” He notes that bees are usually docile when they swarm, though you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way Times Square visitors were reacting.

In recent years, a number of massive bee swarms have occurred in New York City that the NYPD’s “Bee Cop,” Officer Darren Mays, had to manage with his trusty vacuum. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in early August, shortly after he tackled one swarm at a local pizza shop, Mays explained that the reason tens of thousands of bees stick together so closely is because they’re following their queen, who’s scouting locations for a new colony.

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Bees normally swarm in the spring, says Coté, so Tuesday’s swarm was a bit unusual. “But if it’s a crowded hive and extra hot, those two together, that’s when it happens,” he says.

In other words, this is a perfectly natural phenomenon that only feels apocalyptic because humans are all up in the bees’ space. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, former NYPD detective and beekeeper Dan Higgins said, “In nature, it happens in the middle of the woods. In New York City, it happens in Grand Central or Park Avenue where there are 500 or 600 people.”

There’s not much on a hot dog stand that might draw a bee colony, but Coté notes that a few buildings in the Times Square area that keep beehives on their roofs might be the source of the swarms. When the colonies in those hives are not properly maintained, he says, swarms can occur, even though they are usually preventable. “Bees don’t swarm without warning. If a beehive is regularly maintained, those signs are seen, and actions are taken to thwart the swarm,” he says. “It’s in their nature to swarm when it’s too crowded or too hot.”

Around all the people in Times Square, the bees are a nuisance, even though their motives for swarming are generally peaceful and they are nonthreatening. Bee vacuums are meant to safely move bees away from people into a temporary hive, which allows them to be transported to a new hive or released in the wild, where they have a better chance at finding a new one.

As explained in a 2006 article in Behavioral Ecology, several hundred “scout” bees are the first to venture out from a hive when things start getting cramped. These scouts return to the hive and do a little dance for other worker bees to convey the locations of the potential new sites. Eventually, the hive settles on one, and then the “daughter queen” who will head the new hive sets out, protected by tens of thousands of loyal workers, representing about half the original hive. A high-quality site is ideally one that’s not too far from the old hive (moving out has to happen quickly), near good sources of pollen and nectar, and well sheltered from the wind, extreme temperatures, and other physical disturbances.

Perhaps it’s for the best the hot dog bees were sucked up and moved to more peaceful terrain, despite nearby Central Park being full of nectar-laden flowers. Times Square itself is a frantic hellscape, which, ironically, got a long-awaited taste of calm today as the bees frightened its occupants into terrified silence.

Steve Irwin: He Gave Attention to One of Nature's Saltiest Big Boys

The endangered saltwater crocodile received a helping hand from Irwin.

The late icon of conservation Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin would have been 57 years old on Friday, and Google chose the day to mark his extraordinary life with a touching Google Doodle slideshow. Irwin was deeply involved with animals, reptiles especially, from an early age, as his parents ran a reptile park when was a child in Australia.

Steve Irwin Is Still Protecting Animals Worldwide, 13 Years After His Death

The Crocodile Hunter's legacy lives on in thousands of acres of protected land.

In 2004, the late conservationist Steve Irwin caught a lot of heat for feeding a crocodile while simultaneously holding his baby. The incident captured his lifelong approach to animal conservation, which began with his animal-filled childhood and continues even after his death with the conservationist legacy he left behind. Irwin’s 57th birthday would have been on Friday, and he was commemorated with a front-page Google Doodle.

Steve Irwin: How He Rose to Fame as the Crocodile Hunter

Google paid tribute to the star.

Google commemorated the life of Steve Irwin on Friday with a homepage doodle on what would have been the Australian’s 57th birthday. Irwin became a household name through his animal activism and television appearances, first launching onto screens of Animal Planet viewers with his show The Crocodile Hunter.

Irwin was born in the Essendon near Melbourne in 1962 to parents Lyn and Bob Irwin. His parents famously gave him an 11-foot scrub python for his 6th birthday which he named Fred. The young Steve learned a lot from his parents about animals, and they laid the foundations for Beerwah Reptile Park when they bought some land in 1970. Steve learned to wrestle crocodiles from the age of 9, and helped manage the family-owned park. The park was renamed Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, and in 1990, it was renamed Australia Zoo — the same year Steve met producer John Stainton. He met his future wife, Oregonian Terri Raines, when she was visiting the park the following year. Their croc-filled honeymoon in 1992 formed the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter.

The Incredible Science Behind This Self-Warming, Self-Cooling Bed

Eight Sleep’s new bed will make tossing and turning a thing of the past.

Filed Under Data

Sleep tracking can unquestionably help you establish better habits which allow for a more restful night’s sleep. By keeping track of the nights that you toss and turn, you can identify potential explanations for your sub-optimal slumber. Maybe it’s the time of week that’s got you anxious. Maybe it was the cheeseburger you had for lunch. Paying attention is just the start, though.

The 'Stoned Ape' Theory Might Explain Our Extraordinary Evolution

A scientist resurfaces a psychedelic retelling of human evolution.

Imagine Homo erectus, a now-extinct species of hominids that stood upright and became the first of our ancestors to move beyond a single continent. Around two million years ago, these hominids, some of whom eventually evolved into Homo sapiens, began to expand their range beyond Africa, moving into Asia and Europe. Along the way, they tracked animals, encountered dung, and discovered new plants.