As warmer weather has sprung, more bees have stung.
Emergency response teams are getting the word out to alert those who are beginning to spend more time outdoors to watch out for areas where bees have taken up residence on a more permanent basis and are more aggressive. The bees pollinate flowers and make honey, providing a necessary component of the circle of life. But they also can be a nuisance, and even life-threatening to those they attack and who may be allergic to stings.
Normally, people and bees can coexist, however, with the migration of aggressive Africanized honey bees into the Valley in recent years, experts expect to see an increase in bee incidents. Bee attacks usually occur when bees are swarming or if they are protecting their hive. A stinging emergency can happen if someone tries to remove the bees or a hive, agitates the bees by swatting at them, or startles them with the noise from power equipment such as lawn mowers or blowers.
Because of consistent rains the last three months, causing more weeds and wildflowers to thrive, more bees are out, according to Tom Martin, president of AAA Africanized Bee Removal in Gilbert. Martin, who formerly was a bee researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Carl Hayden Laboratory in Tucson, said there are fewer colonies of bees, but the colonies are bigger and have increased from about 12,000 to 20,000 bees. Martin said his company has already exterminated and removed “several hundred” colonies this year alone — including one with 40 gallons of honey from Gilbert last week.
“The colonies are more lethal because there are more bees in them,” Martin said. “When they attack, they attack with 10 percent of their population. If a colony has 30,000 bees and they attack you, one can get attacked by as many as 3,000 bees. The bees usually become more aggressive around June or October when the plants are diminished.”
Swarming usually occurs from February through May, and again in October. A swarm is a small colony of bees looking to establish a new colony and protect the queen bee. It may appear as a cloud of bees or a group formed like a ball clinging to a branch or eaves of a building. A swarm can be as large as 60,000 or more bees. If you notice a swarm that is attacking, walk slowly and quietly away from it and find shelter in a building or vehicle, bee safety experts say.
This year, the Mesa. Chandler and Gilbert fire departments have responded to at least four emergency bee sting calls combined, according to statistics, but it’s too early to tell whether there will be more bee incidents than last year. Mesa fire, which responded to nine emergency bee incidents last year, has responded to two this year. Chandler fire, which responded to 11 incidents last year, has responded to one this year. Two teenagers were stung after running into an aggressive swarm in the street in the 300 block of North Evergreen Street on Tuesday morning, according to Paul Nies, a Chandler fire spokesman.
The total number of bee sting calls the Gilbert Fire Department has responded to was unavailable.
On Wednesday, a beehive was removed from inside an irrigation box in Gilbert where bees often can find a safe haven and quickly navigate in and out of them
“The biggest problem is when people disturb them,” said Mike Connor, a Gilbert Fire Department spokesman. “There’s almost an inherent fear of bees, which is good. The best thing is to leave them alone and stay away from them. When those bees get agitated, they get angry, they’ll swarm and go through the neighborhood, and they’re aggressive.”
People who discover hives are urged not to throw anything at them, not to shoot at them or pour anything on them, Connor said.
The Chandler Fire Department utilizes a Bee Emergency Response Team (BERT) to respond to bee attacks. When called to a bee-related incident, BERT-trained firefighters provide aid to victims, attempt to locate the source of the attack and reduce the threat of injury to residents. Team members will also instruct homeowners how to contact a bee removal expert.
“We always see an increase of bee incidents in springtime,” said Nies, who has been stung multiple times in the neck in the past while responding to a bee call. “We will remove a swarm from a residential area if the hive is accessible, place the bees in a bag and we’ll take them out to a field and release them so they can find another tree. They are generally harmless for the most part and will be non-aggressive unless someone takes action against them. Bees don’t bluff. If they’re angry, you’re going to get a sticker.
“A lot of people don’t understand that grapefruit trees or orange trees don’t happen without bees pollinating them,” Nies said. “Bees are an important component to the eco-structure. They pollinate your plants and flowers.”
As people get out to hike or resume their yard work in the spring, they may discover large swarms of bees nesting in areas they pass by every day, but don’t pay close attention to.
“It’s nice weather and people are getting out,” said Marissa Ramirez-Ramos, fire and life safety education specialist for the Mesa Fire Department. “One day, the bees are not there, and all of a sudden they are. Hopefully, they’re transient, and they’ll move along.
“If the bees stay where they’re at, we want to let people know not to eradicate them on their own. Leave it to the professionals.”