Honeybees become US Air Force’s latest enemy threat

15 Aug 2016

An F-22 Raptor flying free of any honey bee threat

Two infestations in the past month have seen the US Air Force relocate some 45,000 bees, half of which had found a new home on an F-22 Raptor jet.

Bees are under threat, this we know. When the US Air Force starts to protect them, you know their importance is huge.

Over the weekend, news emerged of a grounded F-22 Raptor jet, forced to sit on the runway at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, while an eight-pound colony of bees swarmed around its engine.

Let’s bee friends

Thanks to an on-site entomologist, a vacuum hose, and an opportunistic local beer producer, they were relocated after a few hours and nobody was hurt.

“I was shocked like everyone else because it looked like a cloud of thousands of bees, but I knew they wouldn’t sting anyone and were just looking for a new place to live,” said Sgt Jeffrey Baskin.

“My neighbour maintains two colonies of honeybees and I knew they were at risk for extinction, [so] I figured we might want to get a honeybee expert out to collect them.”

The Air Force’s entomologist called for back-up, as he hadn’t the tools to relocate some 20,000 bees.

It’s thought  the swarm was on its way to a new location to build a hive for their queen. Queen bees typically fly with eggs to lay at the new hive and do not eat for up to 10 days before leaving to start a new colony.

Sting and the Air Force

The bee expert involved suspected the queen, malnourished from a long trip, landed on the F-22 to rest. Honey bees do not leave the queen, so they swarmed around the F-22 and eventually landed there.

In partnership with a local beer maker, the colony now lives at a nearby facility producing honey for the drink production.

Only a few weeks ago, a similar problem at Malmstom Air Force Base saw 25,000 honeybees swarm in and rest on shrubs near an arms training range.

Again, judging the scenario on a larger decline in bee populations, officials sought a rehoming mission.

Senior Airman Billy Hunt called in a “master beekeeper” who was able to remove the animals using a cardboard box with slatted interior and a lid. They also ended up in a local resting place.

“I definitely consider it a win,” Hunt said. “Most people’s first instinct is to kill bees.”

Main image of F-22 Raptor jet via Tomas del Amo/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic