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from The Star Tribune, Minneapolis MN


Bees at the crosswalk make for afternoon buzz

Terry Collins
Star Tribune

Published 05/30/2003

The buzz on S. 7th St. and Portland Av. in Minneapolis Thursday afternoon wasn't about how well the Twins are playing or the new gun law.

Instead, the chatter centered on a swarm of about 15,000 stunning females.

Bees, that is.

They were discovered earlier in the day after they mysteriously turned an electronic walk/don't walk sign into a makeshift beehive and creepily attracted the attention of police and several brave (albeit frightened) onlookers.

"I saw all these squad cars and I thought there was an accident or something," said Charles McMillan, 43, of Minneapolis, swatting away numerous critters near his face. "Then I looked up at the stoplights and I said, 'What in the world?' "

McMillan, who is a salesman in an nearby office building at 529 S. 7th St., quickly added, "It's time to run for cover, man. When you see so many bees, there's no time for looking."

Coincidentally, the bees camped out just below the sixth-floor offices of Gary Johnson, the owner of Minnesota Package Bees, a beekeeping equipment and supply company. The manager of his building called to ask for help.

So, covered head-to-toe in a white bee suit and mask, Johnson carried honeycomb frames up a ladder near the sign. Within minutes, thousands of bees flocked to the frames, with others hovering nearby.

Meanwhile, traffic heading west on 7th Street slowed to a crawl and passersby either walked briskly or ran across the street to avoid the swarm.

"I haven't seen anything like this before in my life," said Johnson, who's been in the bee supply business for 35 years. "Usually I find them attached to a tree branch and we put a net around it and cut it down.

"But this is a strange one. Even for me."

Johnson, 57, of Coon Rapids, later described the swarm as a nonstinging bunch, "real docile in a euphoric state of mind on their maiden voyage."

He figures the bees possibly originated near the Mississippi River and followed their "prolific" queen bee to another spot -- the walk/don't walk sign -- near downtown around sunrise Thursday morning.

Johnson doesn't know why the swarm, twice the size of an average one of 8,000 bees, descended there. Beekeeping is "not an exact science, you know," he said.

He planned to remain at the scene Thursday until a majority of the bees came down. Johnson plans to keep them, sell their honey and establish a new colony, perhaps at a site in Apple Valley.

"Gary, it's a good sign to see you working so hard today," Jim Koralesky, 57, the owner of the nearby Minnesota Auto Body shop, said jokingly to Johnson. "It's unbelievable what you see around here, huh?"

Terry Collins is at

Copyright 2003 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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