Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Did the bees know an earthquake was coming? I think yes!

Earthquakes may be something that people in the western part of the country might be used to, but its not something that we're used to in my neck of the woods here in North Carolina.  Make that the east coast. That was pretty apparent when Tuesday afternoon rolled around and everything came to a screeching halt after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Mineral, Virginia, at 1:51 on Tuesday afternoon.

I'd never even heard of Mineral, Virginia, but I did find out that it is 3 1/2 hours from my home in North Carolina.  And while the map shows that kind of distance in mileage, it felt like I was in the same city when my house shook from the tremor.

But the really odd thing...just moments before it happened, I noticed the oddest thing going on with my honey bees.  

About 1:45, I went to the kitchen to make my afternoon pick-me-up coffee.  As I was filling up the carafe with water, I happened to look out the window and down to my bee hives, and that's when I noticed a frenzy of bees everywhere.  They were all in the sky and flying around the yard.  It almost looked like a swarm.  The bees were flying all around and around in wide circles.  It was almost like they were conducting orientation flights, but they seemed to be making extremely wide circles and not going anywhere.  

And I noticed that one of the hives, the yellow hive which holds my package bees from Dadant, were all flying in and out of the far right side of the entrance.  They were just hovering.  Instead of flying in and out of the entire entrance as they usually do, they were all hovering on the one side of the hive, almost as if they could only come and go from that side.  I'd never seen them do that before.

Six minutes later, all of a sudden I hear a low roar.  That's when the house started shaking, the dishes rattled in the cabinet, and I could hear the house creaking near the top.  Klaus, one of my dogs, jumped up and started running all over the house and barking like crazy.  After about 10-15 seconds of this rumbling and shaking, it suddenly stopped.  I went outside to ask my neighbor what was happening and she had no clue anything was going on and never felt a thing.  Coming back in the house, I flipped on the television and saw breaking news that the earthquake had just hit central Virginia, and Facebook went crazy with people talking about it too.  Truthfully, I admit it scared the devil out of me.  I had never experienced anything like that in my life.  Once I got my wits, I called my parents to make sure they were okay and then got ready for a busy day of earthquake coverage at my own job with the local television station.

But the really eerie thing?  I went to the back yard and there were no bees flying, no hovering to the side of the hives, no anything out of the ordinary.  They were all back to normal, all four hives, and the girls were flying in and out as they normally do.  It was like I was looking at four different hives than the ones I saw just minutes before.

A little later I posted the question on my Facebook page and wanted to know if its true that animals and insects know when something like an earthquake is about to happen.  The overwhelming response from my friends was YES!  Many of them said their dogs and cats and other animals acted really odd just before the earthquake hit, and the observation of my honey bees went along with what they were saying.  I know that bees will come back to the hive and stay put until bad storms and rains pass...sometimes knowing before we humans know.  So maybe, just maybe, they know when something like the earthquake is about to happen too.  It just seems to make sense.

The good news is that very few places around here reported damage from the earthquake.  Most people were just "shaken up" from the event.  

Now that we've made it though an earthquake, Hurricane Irene is now heading up the coast and it looks like North Carolina is in her sights.  While we really need the rain here, I'm hoping that it will stay far enough away to not bring high winds.  I was working for the Sheriff's Office when Hurricane Fran hit our area. Even though we're over 200 miles from the beaches, Fran came inland and tore through the mid-part of the state.  Trees and power lines were down everywhere and people didn't have electricity for days.  If Irene becomes a category 4 storm as predicted, we could be in for a mess.

I think Mother Nature should take a vacation...

ADDENDUM: Hey gang! Today (Wednesday) I received the following email from Gloria Radcliff who lives in Indiana.  I was tickled to get it because I thought people may think I'm nuts because of my observation of the bees just before the earthquake hit.  Here's what Gloria had to say, "Mark, I'm glad that I just read your blog about your bees and the earthquake. I was in my garden about 2pm today (yesterday now), and one of my 4 hives started to act like they were going to swarm, which this hive did 2x last year. The bees were in front of the hive, buzzing loudly and flying way above the trees, but remained in front of the hive. I couldn't believe it and didn't associate this activity with the quake because I didn't feel any tremors or other earthquake related things and in past years I have felt quake activity, usually the ground rolls! I just thought they were nuts since this has been my wild hive. I live in southern Indiana 30 miles northwest of Louisville, Ky. I had no idea what the bees were up to, it was really intense activity. It sure appears that these bees knew about the quake. P.S. Enjoy your blog."

Thanks, Gloria!  I appreciate the email!  And thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences and thoughts too!  Let me add that I was speaking to a newspaper columnist friend on Wednesday, the day after the earthquake, and she told me that someone told her they also observed bees acting crazy before it hit.  She was amazed at what I was telling her about my own bees.  You know, I think we may be on to something here about the bees and their keen senses!  



  1. That is amazing that you just happened to be watching your bees around the time of the earthquake; so lucky! I really wish I'd had the chance to observe mine.

    I feel left out with the whole earthquake thing - I was a little further south than normal on a work project, felt the ground rumble and assumed it was a train going by. If the world ever ends I'll be the last to know. :P

  2. I live in Ohio. Around 10:00 a.m. my mother-in-law and I noticed honey bees hovering above the doors acting like they wanted to get inside her home. It was the strangest thing. We figured they were acting crazy because of the colder weather we've been having lately.

  3. Interesting! I've just spent the last 12 months living through 8,000 add earthquakes here in Christchurch. I'm new to beekeeping though, so I will ask the team. My animals certainly all behaved in different ways, so for them it was an individual experience.

  4. Such an interesting post! Good luck on your upcoming visit with Irene!

  5. Mark,

    I was in a house working in Chapel Hill when the earthquake hit, barely noticed it. Wish I'd been near my hives and saw this reaction.

  6. Hello Mark, how are you man lost in what they do bees;;;
    My good wishes from Greece!

  7. a little worried that you haven't posted in so long....the bees ok?

  8. Hi I just found your blog and see we have alot in common. I am a 3rd year bee Keeper and LOVE your blog!

    You should check my blog out and FOLLOW if you like I always FOLLOW back!

  9. Hi Mark, do you have time to post.
    From Greece to the present I send my good wishes beekeeping season!



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