BU Today

Campus Life

Honeybees Crash Commencement

Worker bees follow queen to excellent seats


Roughly 5,000 unticketed guests swarmed onto Nickerson Field just 45 minutes before the scheduled start of BU’s 139th Commencement exercises, bringing with them the potential for minor havoc. Honeybees, following their queen to a new home just after noon on a sunny spring day, alighted on a plastic chair in a guest section of the field, just behind the area designated for graduates of the College of Communication.

Grounds crew, who spotted the growing ball of insects clinging to the underside of a plastic seat, knew just the man to call: Bill Murray. No, not the Bill Murray of Ghostbusters fame, but plumbing department manager Bill Murray, a backyard beekeeper and the advisor to BU’s Beekeepers Club.

Murray, who also happens to be one of the managers of Commencement setup and takedown, was nearby and understood immediately what was going on.

“They were honeybees,” he says. “They’re not aggressive. They’re just following their queen, who releases pheromones to lead them to a new hive. We think we spotted them yesterday down by the railroad tracks.”

Instead of taking immediate action, Murray waited, watching the increasing size of the ball of bees beneath the chair.

“You want to give all the bees a chance to catch up,” he says. “That way none of the bees are lost.”

Once the ball of insects stopped growing, Murray swung into action, albeit slowly. He calmly picked up the chair, gently placed it in a blue plastic trash barrel, and closed the lid. Commencement seating continued with barely a ripple of commotion.

The good news, says Murray, is that the visiting swarm will be turned over to the BU Beekeepers Club, which will give it a new home next to its existing hive on the banks of the Charles River.

Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, beekeeper and plumbing department manager Bill Murray places the swarm of bees in a safe place. The bees will join other hives of the BU Beekeepers Club. Video by Kristin Henne. Photo by Tom Daley

Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

18 Comments on Honeybees Crash Commencement

  • Just another BU mom on 05.20.2012 at 9:35 pm

    That’s unbelievable! Just “another Cinderella story”. Go Bill!

  • ben on 05.20.2012 at 10:16 pm

    So no bees were hurt when they were put in the plastic trash barrel, correct??

    • JG on 05.21.2012 at 3:07 am

      Yeah, one needed stitches! Good Grief. Relax will ya!

    • Cheryl on 05.25.2012 at 12:43 pm

      no, Bill was adamant that the bees not be harmed in any way and threatened anyone who would kill them! (we were seated nearby and got to see the whole thing unfold!)

  • Sara on 05.21.2012 at 8:58 am

    This is hilarious. That must have been a very good seat for the bees to want it so badly!

    • Derek on 05.23.2012 at 2:00 pm

      It was un-bee-lievably good.

  • The actor? on 05.21.2012 at 10:22 am

    I like that BU’s department manager is Bill Murray.

  • Mandy on 05.21.2012 at 10:42 am

    This is awesome. So sweet and considered! My mom is really impressed :) Go BU!

  • S on 05.21.2012 at 11:36 am

    I love little stories like this. Great job handling this BU and Bill Murray.

  • Karen Shaw on 05.21.2012 at 12:25 pm

    Excellent way to handle the situation! What a contrast to our experience at my alma mater, UC Davis. A swarm of bees “visited” our daughter’s high school graduation ceremony in 2006 and the university campus fire department responded by closing down ALL the bleacher seating on that side of the field which happen to be the shady side. As is usual in California, it was 100oF June day. All attendues were directed to sit in the direct sun; the bees got the best seats in the house all to themselves! I wish we’d had a “Bill Murray” to save the day!

  • AW on 05.21.2012 at 1:01 pm

    Don’t forget this gem: http://www.bu.edu/today/2010/beekeepers-on-the-charles/

  • Mike Simpson on 05.22.2012 at 1:39 am

    But of course. Nice work Bee U.

  • Val Tomolonis on 05.22.2012 at 11:40 am

    Well done Bill! As a fellow beekeeper who attended this commencement (though somehow missed this exciting Bee-U action), it was refreshing to see how well this was handled. So many times the exterminator is called in and the bees are killed. Best of luck to the bee club on campus! Great way to show the public firsthand how swarms are actually very docile and manageable when handled calmly and without panic.

  • Ed on 05.22.2012 at 12:07 pm

    Nice catch!
    Honeybee swarms don’t follow their queen to a new home. The queen is actually following the scout bees who have already scouted, or are out scouting while the bees are clustered on the chair. The scouts return and when they’ve found a suitable home and they convey the location to the cluster and they go.

    • U Fail @ Semantics on 05.22.2012 at 2:28 pm

      … How does that change anything? The swarm follows the queen who follows a couple scouts. The swarm still follows the scouts.

  • dave on 05.22.2012 at 8:06 pm

    I was there to help bill…I deserve some credit too!!!!..dave

  • tricia gilpatric on 05.29.2012 at 1:14 pm

    way to “bee”, Billy!!!

  • Anetta on 11.20.2012 at 12:05 am

    I’ll have the bees please

Post Your Comment

(never shown)