Last week, the world watched with a gaping mouth as a blaze ripped through the Notre Dame in Paris, France. While the cathedral's cross-shaped roof has been largely destroyed and its iconic spire has fallen, much of the cathedral managed to avoid substantial damage during the fire. However, it wasn't just the highly flammable Gothic architecture that got off lightly.
Since 2013, the rooftop of the Notre Dame has been home to over 180,000 bees as part of a city-wide initiative to boost declining bee numbers. Against all odds, all three hives managed to survive and appear to be enjoying the spring sunshine once again.
"The bees are alive. Until this morning, I had had no news,” Nicolas Geant, the Notre Dame's resident beekeeper, told AFP on Thursday.
“At first I thought that the three hives had burned but I had no information. Then I saw from satellite images that this was not the case and then the cathedral spokesman told me that they were going in and out of the hives.”
As you can see from the drone images of the cathedral roof, the hives were a reasonable distance from the main fire, however, the bees would have still been blown full of smoke.
Bees do not have lungs so they cannot die from smoke inhalation. Instead, they breathe through a network of tiny tubes called tracheae. If you’ve ever seen a beekeeper working with their hive, you’ll know that they occasionally use smoke to calm the bees down. Bees mainly communicate through “smell” and pheromones. If a hive becomes disrupted, bees will start to pump out alarm pheromones to alert the rest of the hive. However, smoke helps to mask the pheromones and dampen the sensitivity of the bees' antennae.
So, when the fire hit on the evening of April 15 in the Notre Dame cathedral, the rooftop bees did not abandon their hives and instead became pacified by the billows of smoke.
“Instead of killing them, the CO2 (from smoke) makes them drunk, puts them to sleep,” added Geant, speaking to The Associated Press.
“When bees sense fire, they gorge themselves on honey and stay to protect their queen, who doesn’t move. I saw how big the flames were, so I immediately thought it was going to kill the bees. Even though they were 30 meters (~100 feet) lower than the top roof, the wax in the hives melts at 63°C (145.4°F).”