Victoria Clayton had a honey of a problem recently: 30,000 bees in the attic of her home in Cape May, N.J.
When Clayton, who lives in the 19th century home with her boyfriend, Richard White, decided to do a sting operation of sorts after they noticed an unusually large number of bees in their flower and herb gardens this spring, and spied a constant stream headed toward a third-floor laundry vent.
Turns out there were around 30,000 bees living in the attic with more than 25 pounds of honey and honeycomb under the floorboards.
"I could not believe that it took probably a year or less for these tiny little bees to build such an elaborate comb," Clayton told Newsworks. "It was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. I hated to see them go."
But go they must, according to Gary Schempp, the bee removal expert called in to remove the thriving hive.
"If the bees had been allowed to keep adding on to the hive, [the owners] would have eventually had honey dripping from the ceilings and that could have caused dry rot and attracted other insects and rodents," Schempp told The Huffington Post.
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That wouldn't have surprised Clayton, 52, who says her house normally attracts all sorts of critters.
"This old house just seems to attract wildlife, so it's good that I really love animals," Clayton told the Philadelphia Inquirer, adding that the menagerie includes raccoons, possums and hundreds of tiny black birds that dive-bomb single file down her dormant brick chimney to roost every night.
The global bee population has shrunk by, depending on the estimate, 50 to 90 percent in recent years due to a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes the worker bees in a hive to abruptly disappear. So Clayton found it important not to kill the bees, but to relocate them to a farm.
"Honey bees are mankind's most beneficial insect. Thy are responsible for about one third of the food on our tables," Schempp told NBC40.
In light of that importance, it is illegal in New Jersey to kill honey bees, so Schempp relocated them to his nearby farm.
Although some homeowners who are not familiar with bees -- or the law -- try to eradicate them with spray, Schempp says that can cause a homeowner to get stung with a huge repair bill.
"Once they are sprayed or controlled or damaged in some way, then all that nectar, all that honey, all that comb, and all that organic material is left to ferment in the wall," he told NBC40. "The clean up for that can far exceed the cost of professional removal."
Schempp admits that 30,000 bees sounds like a lot -- and it is for an attic -- but it's small compared to normal hives, which can have between 50,000 and 100,000 bees.
"However, it wasn't easy. I had to cut up part of the floor and spend a lot of time on my back or on my knees to remove them," Schempp said.