It’s hard to believe that it is only 10 months since much of the world wept as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was consumed in flames. Blog readers tuned in for news of the honeybees that lived on the roofs of the fabled cathedral.
It was nothing short of a miracle when drone footage indicated that the bees had survived, although it was far too hot for anyone to examine the hives at that stage.
Nine months later, the bees living in the beehives that survived the catastrophic Paris cathedral blaze are healthier than ever, says their beekeeper. The area around the cathedral is still sealed off since the devastating fire last April. Here is a brief 24-second long video from April 2019:
Bees have been living in beehives on the sacristy roof at the south end of the building, about 98 feet below the main cathedral roof, since 2013. Their beekeeper, Sibyle Moulin from the company Beeopic, told the Guardian that access to the site had been restricted for six months because the 13th-century structure is still unstable. Also, lead particles from the roof were turned into dust in the fire and are a health hazard. Moulin had to undergo a safety and health course before she could visit the honeybees, which she was finally allowed to do in July, three months after the devastating fire. See the bees of Notre Dame in this ultra-short video:
Bee lovers around the world were focused on the survival of the bees after learning that the worker bees did not abandon their queens. Each of the three hives had about 50,000 resident bees, making a total of around 150,000. Instead of fleeing, they ate their stored honey and settled in to protect their homes. The fact that they survived was miraculous to many people who feared they had perished in the flames.
In the early days after the blaze, Moulin feared that the hives might have been damaged by the intense heat, or that fire fighters might have disturbed them as they frantically tried to extinguish the fire, which was estimated to reach 800C or 1470F degrees at its hottest point.
Moulin and Nicolas Géant, head of Beeopic, held out hope since the hives appeared intact according to drone footage, even though they were subjected to fire, water and smoke. Film footage and satellite images revealed clues. Two days later they knew for sure that the bees were alive.
Bees are used to smoke, which most beekeepers use to sedate their bees, so that did not pose a worry. Wax melts at approximately 70C so when the images revealed that there were no pools of wax beneath the 3 hives, this was a major clue that the bees hadn’t been adversely affected by the heat.
Some workers at the cathedral sent film footage to Beeopic of bees coming and going to the hives. They were carrying pollen balls into the hive to build up protein for feeding baby bees. This indicated the queen bees were well and producing babies. See this 50-second long video from April 2019 by Beeopic:
In spite of the lead dust and other debris around them, the bees seemed not to have been affected by the blaze. Since the only things they touch are flowers, they are unlikely to be harmed by anything else on the roof, unless they consume contaminated water. During her July 2019 visit Moulin collected 66 kilograms of honey from the roof hives and sent samples to Canadian labs to test for lead.
Moulin indicated that the goal is to replace the queens of the Notre Dame hives this coming summer, since the queen bee can live for 5 years even though her worker bees only live about 45 days. Moulin says they usually replace them every year to try to keep the colonies from swarming since they are in an urban setting and may scare city people. The ‘sticky’ part is that anything being removed from the site has to be decontaminated, and Moulin doesn’t want to put the bees in a shower.