Originally created 07/12/97

Rare, huge hive found in abandoned home



BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) - Thousands of yellow jackets have taken over the living room of an abandoned home for more than a year in this southeast Georgia town, spreading their large greyish hive across a beat-up couch and chair.

On Friday, a steady stream of spectators trekked to the house to try for a peak at the rare hive before workers began trying to vacuum the yellow jackets out of the house for a trip to a research lab.

"It is a monster of a hive," said University of Georgia researcher Bob Matthews, who was organizing the yellow jacket roundup.

Matthews, who has studied yellow jackets for 20 years, said the Brunswick hive is unusual because it has lasted so long, grown so large and remained fully exposed. Also, the hive may contain more than one queen bee.

Typically, a yellow jacket hive is built on the ground in the spring with one queen at the helm. An average hive grows to the size of a basketball through the summer and early fall, then is killed off at the first frost.

The hive in Brunswick has lasted through at least one winter, making it a rare perennial hive, Matthews said.

Also, the hive is fully exposed on the couch and chair, and it has grown to about 4 feet wide and about 3 feet tall, according to Ken Conley, a Glynn County inspector who leaned inside a window at the house and shot photographs of the hive.

"It's biologically an unusual phenomenon," Matthews said.

The owner of the house, which was abandoned 15 years ago and is missing its doors and windows, first noticed the hive inside 18 months ago "as a little bitty nest," Conley said.

When the hive continued to grow, the owner wrapped yellow caution tape around the house to keep people out, Conley said.

The owner called an exterminator to try to get rid of the yellow jackets when he learned the house was on the county's list for demolition.

But when Conley saw how large the hive was, he stopped the exterminator and called the state. Now, word of the huge hive has spread through town.

"There are tons of people coming up to look at it," Conley said.

Matthews planned to wait until dark Friday night - so that most of the yellow jackets would be in the hive - then try to build a plastic tent around the hive with only one tunnel-like exit.

If Matthews succeeded in getting the tent around the hive, he then planned to use a vacuum to suck the yellow jackets through the one exit and into a container to take to Athens.

"They will get mad and upset," Matthews said. "I can't really predict how it's going to go. It could be a nightmare."

At the lab, Matthews wants to study the makeup of the hive to determine if there is more than one queen and how the hive has lasted so long.

Even after 20 years of studying hives, Matthews said the Brunswick hive "is a new ball game for me."