But it wasn’t immediately obvious where those 20,000 honeybees in Midtown Manhattan came from. So I went on a hunt for their hive.
First, a chat with an expert
New York legalized beekeeping in 2010, and the practice has “increased exponentially” since, said Andrew Coté, founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association and the owner of Andrew’s Honey. Mr. Coté is a media-savvy beekeeper: Google his name, and numerous articles about swarms include his quotes.
This is a man who last year hung from a 17th-story ledge at One Times Square to rescue 30,000 bees.
The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lists 374 registered beehives across New York’s five boroughs. Mr. Coté, who manages apiaries all over the city, said there are probably far more, and each hive might house 10,000 to 75,000 bees.
He said the hot dog cart bees most likely came from a hive on a hotel rooftop; he said the same about those bees at One Times Square.
The nearby New York Hilton Midtown and InterContinental New York Barclay hotels have rooftop hives. But the InterContinental Times Square’s hives, at 44th Street and Eighth Avenue, were closer to the cart’s location on Aug. 28, at 43rd Street and Broadway.
It was a decent lead.
Next, a trip to see some hives
Apis mellifera, or the western honeybee, goes into its mating season between April and June. That is when swarms are most frequent.
When bees reproduce, their colony splits in half, said Jay Evans, research leader at the Agriculture Department’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. Half of the colony stays in the hive with a new queen, and the other half swarms with the older queen to a new home.
But in late August, swarms tend to happen because of overcrowding and possibly overheating within hives, Mr. Evans said. So, could the bees simply have been too hot?
Alex Aubry, the executive chef at The Stinger in the lobby of the InterContinental, has beekeeping built into his duties. He said he was initially nervous around the insects in 2016, when he joined the eatery that serves cocktails and food laced with honey from the rooftop hives.
“To be a beekeeper, you have to be certified,” said Mr. Aubry, who now finds the work relaxing. “They teach you how to handle the bees, how to take care of them, what to look for. Making sure that the queen’s not leaving. If the queen leaves, everyone’s gone.”
Mr. Aubry was adamant that the Times Square bees were not from his hives.
“They were from the Hilton,” he said. “It wasn’t ours. We always check.”
Mr. Aubry then described the maintenance that he and his sous chefs provide, adding that after he heard about the swarm, he and a sous chef quickly determined that their queens were still nestled at the bottom of their respective hives.
Mr. Aubry invited me up on the InterContinental’s green roof and let me borrow a beekeeper suit, so I could see the insects up close. The roof had plenty of space for a large garden of flowers and herbs. The bees buzzed in four wooden enclosures.
I was not, of course, able to make an assessment one way or another on whether any were missing.
Mr. Aubry said he thought the swarm came from the Hilton because “one of the guys from Hilton” told him the hotel looked at its bees and the queen was gone.
The New York Hilton Midtown, at 54th Street and Sixth Avenue, is home to, as told to Food & Wine magazine, about 450,000 bees. It is also 11 blocks north and an avenue east of the hot dog cart. I walked there in the summer heat to ask about the hives but could not connect with anyone in charge of the bees during my visit.
Then, education about swarms
I visited two of Mr. Coté’s beehives on a green roof atop Ballet Tech, a dance school just north of Union Square in Manhattan. There, I learned — to my surprise — that he manages the bees at the Hilton.
He said that to his knowledge, the Hilton bees had not swarmed and that it would have been “quite a distance” for them to travel. He maintained that the hot dog cart bees could have came from the InterContinental.
Was tracking these bees to the source even possible?
“I would say that’s very difficult,” said Dr. Thomas Seeley, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, and an authority on honeybees. “There are more colonies of bees other than the ones in those hives. Especially in that area, where you’ve got really tall buildings, they could be way up and nobody would even notice them. They just need a crack in a wall.”
“He is right,” Mr. Coté said when I relayed Dr. Seeley’s assessment. But Mr. Coté added that the day before the swarm, the six hives at the Hilton and the seven hives at One Bryant Park were inspected and there were no signs of swarming.
Mr. Coté said it makes sense that the bees came from a nearby apiary, most likely the InterContinental. So he went with a Health Department inspector to see The Stinger’s sources of honey.
“I checked all four hives,” he said, adding that he saw recent swarm cells in three of the hives.
Of course, unless someone actively watched the bees swarm onto the hot dog cart’s umbrella, there is no way to be 100 percent certain about where they came from.
But “I can say that they swarmed last week, and I can say a hive swarmed last week in close proximity to the hot dog cart, and I can say that other swarms weren’t reported in the area,” Mr. Coté said.
“I’d bet the farm on it. And I’ve actually got a bee farm, so I should know.”
In the end, the beekeepers disagree
Mr. Aubry of the InterContinental did not agree with Mr. Coté’s suspicions.
“My four queens were in each hive,” he said, “and the only thing that each hive needed was water. The bees weren’t from us. Not at all.”
Daniel McAteer, the hotel’s director of safety and security, said that the Health Department did not issue the InterContinental a violation, and that claiming the Times Square bees came from the hotel was “conjecture and speculation.”
Fair enough. Case not quite closed.
“If you ask 10 beekeepers, you will get 11 opinions,” Mr. Coté had said in one of our earlier conversations.
So, what happened to the bees?
The honeybees are getting the care they need, at an apiary belonging to Michael Lauriano, the police officer who vacuumed them up.
The @NYPDBees Twitter account also posted a photo of their new home, which is fittingly under a miniature Sabrett hot dog umbrella.