The Red Bees of Brooklyn, and a Search for a Solution

Bees resting on a red surface.

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Earlier in the week, the New York Times reported that bees in Brooklyn had started turning red, and their honey was looking like bright red goo. It turned out that the urban bees (the bee ban of New York having now been lifted) were hitting the corn syrup at the local Maraschino Cherry factory in record numbers. Now the NRDC's OnEarth magazine has paid the factory a visit to see what can be done to stop the greedy little sweet-toothed pollinators. According to OnEarth, when Brooklyn's beekeepers found out about their bees' corn syrup habit, they contacted Andrew Coté, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association, and Vivian Wang, a beekeeper and advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The pair paid the factory a visit, working with owner Arthur Mondella to look for solutions to the red bee problem.

It turns out that the weak link in the factory's processes is a short period when bins of marinating cherries need to be transported from one warehouse to another. All it takes, Wang tells the magazine, is for one bee to find some remnants of syrup, and she'll be back at the hive telling her buddies about it. (Bees communicate the location of food sources by 'dancing' for their fellow bees.) Once enough bees are on the scent, it's almost impossible to stop them.

According to the owner of the factory, the occasional bee has always been an issue—but the lifting of the ban on urban beekeeping lead to a huge upswing in numbers. The company stressed that there was no evidence that their product had been contaminated, and has already tried a number of solutions—including shrink wrapping the bins to keep bees out. But to no avail. Wang and Coté offered up a few other ideas:

"Several possible ideas could help keep the bees away from the syrup. Draping the syrup bins in heavy, fabric sheets soaked in vinegar might work, Coté said.The vinegar would help mask the syrup without harming either the bees or the cherries. Other possible strategies might include building wooden and mesh "lockers" on wheels to transport the bins and placing feeders full of sugar syrup on the factory's roof to distract the bees."

Whether or not any of these solutions will help discourage the bees remains to be seen, but according to OnEarth, the factory plans to implement the measures over the winter while the bee population is safely indoors. (Bees stay inside their hives for most of the winter.) One could suggest they try using something other than corn syrup for the cherries, of course, but in my experience bees are pretty fond of sugar water too. (And the jury is still out on whether sugar trumps corn syrup for us humans too. Though it sure does taste better.)