Hunkered down in their hives and drunk on smoke, Notre Dame’s smallest official residents — some 180,000 bees — somehow managed to survive the inferno that consumed the cathedral’s ancient wooden roof.
Confounding officials who thought they had perished, the bees clung to life, protecting their queen.
“It’s a big day. I am so relieved. I saw satellite photos that showed the three hives didn’t burn,” Notre Dame beekeeper Nicolas Geant told The Associated Press on Friday.
Geant has overseen the bees since 2013, when three hives were installed on the roof of the stone sacristy that joins the south end of the monument. The move was part of a Paris-wide initiative to boost declining bee numbers. Hives were also introduced above Paris’ gilded Opera.
The cathedral’s hives were lower than Notre Dame’s main roof and the 19th-century spire that burned and collapsed during Monday evening’s fire.
Since bees don’t have lungs, they can’t die from smoke inhalation — but they can die from excessive heat. European bees, unlike some bee species elsewhere, don’t abandon their hives when facing danger.
The hives produce around 165 pounds of honey annually, which is sold to Notre Dame employees.