Tony Bees? Is that You Gathering Up that Bee Swarm in NYC?

bees close up_cleaned

A Cop Who Loves to Gather a Bee Swarm in NYC

When the local news crew from CBS Channel 2 in New York reported that police were called in to take care of a bee swarm in Astoria earlier this week, I had one thought: “Tony Bees, is that you?”

Tony Bees is the nickname of one of NYC’s most colorful beekeepers, Detective Anthony Planakis.  Planakis normally works for the department’s Budget and Accounting Office.  He’s a hard boiled, twenty year veteran of the force. Years ago, when the people up at NYPD headquarters found out he was also a veteran beekeeper, they asked for his help gathering errant swarms each spring, and provided him with a special van and equipment.

I interviewed Planakis for my book, Hives in the City.  I was so impressed by his love of bees and his enthusiasm for the value of pollinators that I focused an entire chapter on his work and his stories.

I was, I have to admit, a bit incredulous that this long time crime fighter was also a long time beekeeper who loved to talk about the value of pollinators and the wonderment of working with insects. Talking to him is almost like talking to someone from the old Barney Miller TV show back in the 1970s.  He’s got opinions about everything, and he’s a witness to crime every day as a part of his work.  But somehow he maintains a love for his city and a curiosity about its incredible energy.  He laughs a lot when he talks.  He sometimes gets poetic and even sentimental.

To Tony Bees, a swarm is inspirational.

“I don’t have kids myself. But seeing a swarm happen – that’s almost like what I think it would be like to witness birth,” Planakis told me .

To understand his point of view, you have to know a bit about why bees swarm. They don’t do it to defend themselves like a squadron of fighter jets. They do it when they need to find a roomier new home. It’s not about defense, but about reproduction.

Although anyone can attempt to capture a swarm, he’s the only official working for the city who does it as a part of his municipal job.

In the past few years — as interest in urban beekeeping has exploded — Tony Bees has been put to work more and more often, helping to minimize negative encounters between honeybees and humans.

To hear him tell it, gathering swarming bees in New York City is a lot like a scene from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters. First, a call comes in to the emergency call center. If the swarm lands in a place with lots of foot or car traffic, the street might have to be closed for a while. Sometimes there are screaming and stampeding crowds of people; other times pedestrians gather to gawk, admire, and take pictures with their phones. Planakis arrives and, if need be, suits up, ready to take the bees off safely and quickly.

He loves the way that everything ceases to exist when he’s with his bees. “It’s the most perfect society I’ve ever seen. It operates on the caste system, and you know something? There is no jealousy inside that hive, there is no brown-nosing, no ass-kissing or anything like that, everyone from birth knows what their job is, what they have to do to sustain that hive, and to reach their goal. They recognize their one leader, the queen, and should any problems arise they have the ability to handle any problem that comes around. To me it’s a beautiful thing.”

If you want to read more about Tony Bees as well as other urban beekeepers, check out Hives in the City: Keeping Honey Bees Alive in an Urban World.  Its for sale now in both paperback and e-book.

*Some parts of this blog post were reprinted from the book, with permission.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Attracting Bees to Your Urban Garden

What to do if you See a Swarm of Bees

-Do Bumble Bees Sting?



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