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The buzz on the BEE Team

“Do you know about the Waggle dance?” he asked.

“No … ” I said.

“Oh. My. God.”

On Sunday, I met the BEE Team. I met about a dozen people, each of whom seemed to have an unending knowledge of everything bee-related. For example, the “waggle dance,” as Ben Denzer ’15, former BEE Team president, explained to me, is a complicated — yet simple — way for a bee to let other bees know where a particularly nectar-filled flower is located. According to Denzer, a bee will circle around in a figure eight and waggle its butt, pointing other bees to the flower using the sun as a reference.

“If you start looking into bees, it’s just like a never-ending pit of awesomeness,” he said.

Last Sunday, the team held a mead-making event in the Brown Co-Op. Essentially honey alcohol, mead is made by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with added raisins or lavender. Although the BEE Team officers now feel as though they are experts in the art of mead-making, they will not actually get to taste the mead they made on Sunday, since it takes up to three years to ferment properly.

“The goal is for current freshmen to get to taste the mead that they bottled when they’re seniors. They get to have mead from the bees from that year when they joined the club,” Denzer said.

After the event, I sat down with Denzer and Louisa Willis ’16, current copresident, to talk about the history, mission and day-to-day life of the BEE Team.

The BEE team was founded in Fall 2009 by Michael Smith ’10 — affectionately called “Panamike” as he was originally from Panama — who, Denzer said, maintained his own hives back home. Upon his arrival at Princeton, Smith wanted to continue beekeeping and founded the club at the start of his senior year to do just that. Originally developed as a means for Smith to complete his senior thesis — which was, of course, about bees — the BEE Team has maintained the hives ever since and continued Panamike’s tradition of studying and loving bees.

Neither Denzer nor Willis had done beekeeping before arriving at Princeton, but that didn’t stop them from falling in love with it.

Both Denzer and Willis said their favorite part of being on the BEE Team is visiting the hives, which they do twice a month. The hives are located just past the boathouse, a 10-minute walk from Frist Campus Center. The BEE Team usually visits the hives on Saturdays or Sundays twice a month at 2 p.m. The trips last about an hour and a half and often consist of both regular members as well as new students and curious community members.

Once they get there, they open up the hives and look for new “baby bees,” a sign that the queen is still alive and the bees are well. Then they might look through the frames and see bees at different life stages, or try to find the queen bee. Sometimes, they have to give the bees medication to prevent them from getting attacked by mites, a problem that has gotten worse over the last 15 years.

“Throughout that whole process, [we’re] just telling them cool facts about bees,” Denzer said. “They’re all like little awesome robots that are doing the exact same thing.”

“You approach the hive, and you can feel you’re there, because there’s a little vibration in the air because all their wings are flapping, and you can hear it,” Willis said.

When they asked me if I would be interested in joining them, I expressed a little bit of concern about visiting a hive — I once got stung by a wasp on my eyelid when I was eight years old, and I still haven’t fully recovered from the experience. But both Denzer and Willis reassured me and said that no one, besides officers, had ever been stung. “It’s like the bees just know who will still love them,” Willis said.

“I’ve only been stung twice here, but they were both because I was being stupid,” Willis said.

The BEE Team usually uses the honey they collect for events they host — like the mead-making one last Sunday — and packages the rest to sell to community members. With that money, they buy new equipment.

“The architecture department really loves our honey,” Denzer, an architecture concentrator, said.

Denzer and Willis said that while they’re happy with the progress the BEE Team has made over the past four years, they still have high hopes for the future of the club — perhaps adding more hives, selling more honey or working with other student groups to inform the greater student community about bees.

“It would be really awesome if everyone went to the hives once when they’re [at Princeton],” Willis said.

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