07/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Apiarian Incident

Strolling down Lexington Avenue in the 80s last night, I encountered what appeared to be a crime scene. Police tape surrounded the east side of the street from J. Lascoff, the drugstore, to Yummy Mummy, a maternity store. On the opposite sidewalk a television crew and a small crowd had gathered, some carrying cameras and binoculars.

I immediately wondered if someone had jumped. No, I was told. Rather, a colony of bees had taken up residence in a tree. And indeed, hanging from a branch of a modest-sized tree in front of a hair salon, was a solid brown mass, curving and irregular in shape, a few feet long and perhaps a foot wide at its thickest point. A fellow onlooker explained that this was a solid mass of bees, perhaps 5000 of them, maybe more, clinging to their queen. Another patient observer, who had been on site for over an hour, recounted how the swarm had been several feet wide as it followed the queen up Lex earlier in the evening.

Reactions to the scene varied among passersby. A few rolled their eyes and kept walking. One stopped to fume about the waste of taxpayer money and to describe having waited much longer for police assistance after being bloodied in a fight earlier in the weekend (the improbability of a street fight on Lexington Avenue caused some to doubt his testimony). Another, amazed to see the crowd still gathered an hour after he had first passed by, speculated that the bees must be building something, since it is unusual for bees to simply hang out. In general, the level of interest and theorizing about this small-town sort of event was as high as the actual knowledge of bee behavior among those present was sketchy.

At one point, a police megaphone was spoken into briefly, leading some in the crowd to wonder how it would be used: "Come out with your wings up!" Or perhaps: "Easy, everyone into the net!"

I retreated homeward as night fell, but the Post reported that a bee expert, Officer Anthony Planakis of the NYPD, was at length dispatched to collect the bees, which he did before an applauding crowd. Apparently none were injured in the process. The bees, he announced, would be taken to "a farm in Connecticut," which, assuming this is not a euphemism, is hardly the worst summertime fate for a New Yorker, apiarian or otherwise.