Hometown: Philadelphia

Major: Environmental Studies

Activities: Penn Beekeeping Club, TEP

This week’s Ego of the Week isn’t sure he’s more worthy of the title than his peers, but we’re giving it to him anyway. Earth science major Lucas Bolno cofounded Penn’s Beekeeping Club during his sophomore year. Reusable water bottle in hand, Lucas talked about bees, and other things that have to do with bees. He really likes bees.

34th Street Magazine: How did you get started beekeeping?

Lucas Bolno: I started in high school. My high school has a senior project where you are basically able to pursue anything you want. When I was a freshman, my brother was a senior, and he and one of his friends decided to make beehives, and they needed someone to continue the legacy. So, I got trained by one of the faculty as a beekeeper. And when I got to Penn, I was asked to be a part of this undergraduate research thing called University Scholars, and somebody was looking for somebody to make a beekeeping club with, and through CURF they got my name. Now, I’m the leader of maintenance and beehive management.

Street: What does the Beekeeping Club do on campus?

LB: We’ve been around since my sophomore year, and it’s taken us some time to figure out exactly what we want to do, because beekeeping takes a lot of time to learn, and it takes a lot of dedication in order to be successful. We have three students that I’m teaching how to beekeep. And one, two, or all of them will be taking over as beekeeper when I leave.

Street: What does beekeeper training involve?

LB: There’s countless things that you have to know. What a normal hive looks like, what types of things to look out for that might be irregular, what could be indicative of disease or infestation, how to give them supplements during different times of the year. You kind of get acclimated with the general feeling of the hive, and you learn to know when something is off, and it’s oftentimes really subtle. 

Street: Are there beehives on campus?

LB: We have three hives at Penn Park, to the right of that not–established field. There’s a wood hexagonal enclosure, and there’s three hives inside of it. They’re common honeybees. Our breed is a mixture of Russian and Italian, and we got them from just outside of Philadelphia, like an hour and a half away. Right now I would estimate that each hive has around 10–30 thousand bees. 

Street: What’s the biggest misunderstanding people have about bees?

LB: Everybody thinks of bees as violent or threatening, but they’re really not. If you come in and you’re really reckless and loud, they might sting you, but most of the time, I just go in wearing short sleeves, whatever I’m wearing that day. You can pet them. Once, to demonstrate how docile they are, I’ve licked bees. They are totally docile if you come in with the right attitude. If you come in and you treat them lovingly and with respect, then you won’t really have problems getting stung.

Street: So the bees never sting you?

LB: When I was younger and not as talented a beekeeper, I got stung a lot. In high school, I would get stung several times in one hand or one arm, and I’m not allergic, but I’ll have a major local reaction. So my whole hand would bloat up and be like a Mickey Mouse glove. And there were times that I would send the teacher an email and be like, I can’t write this paper because I can’t move my hands. 

Street: How do people at Penn react when you tell them you’re a beekeeper?

LB: Everybody’s totally excited. I’ve gotten a really good reception at Penn. In high school, nobody engaged with the club at all. There was one other member. Nobody was interested, they just shied away from it because it was a nerdy thing to do. But in college, everybody’s always really excited, they ask me all about it, ask if they can come see the bees. I’ve taken tons of my friends to come visit them. 

Street: Do you get honey from the bees?

LB: We’ve gotten some small amounts, but we’ve never had two consecutive years of successful hives. Honey is the main food source for bees, and they spend their entire winter essentially hibernating, huddling together, and they vibrate really quickly to stay as warm as possible, and they form a nucleus around the queen, providing ventilation by batting their wings. Because we want the hives to be successful over anything else, we’ve never had a full extraction, we’ve only taken little bits for the members of the groups.

Lightning Round

Street: Do you like honey?

LB: Oh yeah, I eat a lot of honey.

Street: There are two types of people at Penn...

LB: I think that there are people that are most concerned with pre–professionalism and they’re preparing for the rest of their life, trying to connect all the dots before they see them. And then there are people who are more focused on what’s in front of them in the present.

Street: Which are you?

LB: I think everyone at Penn is on a continuum. I think that I try my best to be in the present, but it’s hard when you’re at a pre–professional institution like Penn. It’s tough.

Street: How do you feel about being EOTW?

LB: It feels good, but at the same time, I don’t think that I’m really much more interesting than a lot of people at Penn. I think that everybody at Penn has a really interesting story. There’s just something about beekeeping that makes everybody excited. 

Street: Thoughts on the Bee Movie?

LB: Oh, the Bee Movie is great, everybody’s gotta love the Bee Movie.

Street: What was your Common App essay about?

LB: It was about beekeeping. It wasn’t that interesting.

Street: What are you listening to right now?

LB: Anything by Flying Lotus, I guess.