CU Boulder rehomes thousands of bees found in Old Main building

Two beehives believed to be at least 80 years old were rehomed after they were discovered in Old Main at the University of Colorado Boulder in August.

Miles McGaughey, owner of Mountain Warrior Honey in Longmont, said the hives are “ancient.” McGaughey is a beekeeper and specializes in extracting large beehives from historic buildings, supporting the bees recovery and eventually rehoming them to a permanent location.

“It’s an estimation, but after seeing lots of different combs after different ages, it was at least 80 or maybe older,” he said, later adding, “Anytime you deal with older structures, the chances are they’ve had bees in them for quite some time.”

McGaughey said he can tell how old a beehive is based on the colors of its layers. When bees make a honeycomb it starts out white, and as it gets older and more generations build on top of it, the comb gets darker brown until it turns black.

One of the hives was roughly 2 feet long and the other was about 4 feet long. McGaughey said the smaller hive had 80,000 or more bees and the larger hive had about 100,000 to 120,000 bees, which McGaughey said is an unusually high number.

Safely extracting the hives started on Aug. 15 and took more than one trip because they were on opposite corners of the building. Extracting the bees is a process that takes multiple stages with tools that were developed to complete the work without harming the bees.

In addition to collecting the bees and honeycombs, McGaughey collected more than 60 pounds of honey.

The extraction of the bees was part of an initial inspection of the building to prepare for the Old Main preservation project in 2024, which is pending University of Colorado Board of Regents approval later this year.

The bees will go with McGaughey to be temporarily rehomed over the winter while they build up their stores of honey, with the goal being to rehome them in the summer to a permanent location.

“We’re rehoming the bees to a more natural home,” Tanya Nurkiewicz, a project manager on the preservation project, said in a news release. “We know now that the buttresses don’t impact the structure, but we still don’t want to have an open cavity or allow more bees to take up residence, so part of the Old Main preservation project will include filling these buttresses.”

It’s probable that the bees arrived in their location at Old Main because there weren’t any trees suitable for their hive at the time, McGaughey said. He said ithe presence of the bees likely helped beautify campus over the years by pollinating plant life.

“We need bees,” McGaughey said. “We need bees because we need to eat, and we need bees because they’re a guardian species in nature and tell us the health of the environment.”

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