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Mitchell truck stop becomes bee colony’s temporary home

Anthony Reimnitz puts a frame filled with bees into the box carefully so as not to knock the bees off or agitate them while removing bees from a light post in the Marlins parking lot earlier this week. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 3
Anthony Reimnitz removed bees free of charge from a light post in the Marlins parking lot earlier this week. (Matt Gade / Republic) 2 / 3
Anthony Reimnitz brushes bees onto a frame to carefully remove bees from a light post in the Marlins parking lot earlier this week. (Matt Gade / Republic) 3 / 3

“They’re usually docile, but these are a little agitated,” amateur beekeeper Anthony Reimnitz says, backing away from a truck stop light pole covered with thousands of potentially stinging insects and most likely a queen.

Reimnitz shakes his head as he retreats from two bees in fast pursuit. He swats at one.

“Get out of here,” he says to the air before donning a full-body protective suit and heading back to his hunt.

A swarm usually doesn’t get excited until the queen establishes a home, Reimnitz says.

“Usually they’re only aggressive when they have a hive to protect,” he says. “These are a little more angry than normal.”

It may be a good sign, alluding to the presence of a queen. On the other hand, the queen may have moved inside the light pole, Reimnitz says, and that will make collection hard. And yet again, he worries the queen may have already found a better location for the hive, and the swarm could abruptly depart.

It’s also a hot, windy day, so maybe the weather put these bees in a foul mood.

The outcome of his hunt is far from certain.

A semi-truck hauling bees stopped at Holiday Stationstores truck stop at Burr Street and Interstate 90 on Monday, said store manager Brad Kehn. He noticed the swarm the next morning and began looking for a beekeeper to take them away.

There haven’t been any incidents, he says. The swarm was 100 feet away from any door and in a spot frequented only occasionally by slow-moving semis and campers.

A queen sometimes leaves a hive with half the bees to establish a new colony, leaving the old colony to carry on with a new queen raised from eggs. This particular queen evidently heard Mitchell had a palace or maybe she just grew tired of traveling.

Kehn’s been at the truck stop for 17 years, so he’s learned to keep an eye out for these things. Awhile back, he says, bees from a passing truck covered a pillar next to the diesel pumps. People who are allergic to bee stings can develop a life-threatening reaction in a matter of minutes, so it’s important to quickly address the threat.

Usually, it’s a bad thing when hazardous material falls from a truck, but bees are valuable. Reimnitz saw the online buzz about this swarm on a social media site established by Sioux Falls beekeepers and raced over to collect it. He estimates its worth at $150.

Reimnitz has kept bees for three years, knows “enough to be dangerous,” and has struggled to keep hives over the winter because of colony collapse disorder. He gives away the honey he collects as gifts.

Approaching the swarm, he takes two wooden frames covered in old honeycomb and sets them near the bees. The brood, pollen and honey in the honeycomb should look like a vacant apartment complex to them, he says. Brood is the brown-stained portion of honeycomb that once held larvae.

“Bees like to look for old abandoned hives,” Reimnitz says.

He imagines some bees yelling to friends: Hey, there’s good brood here.

Within minutes, he pulls away a frame covered a few inches thick with bees and slides it carefully into his portable hive. Minutes later, he pulls away another frame covered with even more bees.

It’s only a matter of time now before the swarm is on its way to his property a few miles from Mitchell.

It’s a sweet ending. All gain and no pain.

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