Living with aggressive bees
Africanized bee attacks are on the increase in San Diego County, with several reports in the past few weeks.
In Lemon Grove, Jim Elliot was attacked by hundreds of bees while working in his yard. Due to quick action by his wife Toni, who covered herself with a sheet, ran to him and covered him, he survived the attack.
In Encinitas, Marco Lazaro was not so lucky. While operating a backhoe, Lazaro disturbed a hive and unleashed thousands of bees. He tried to escape the attack by running 600 feet to an outhouse, but he was stung hundreds of times and died of a heart attack.
In Morena, while searching for an auto theft suspect in a canyon, two San Diego police officers were attacked and stung 20 to 30 times each.
In Ramona, Ken Woodward, director of the Guy B. Woodward Museum at 645 Main St., encountered the aggressive bees. Woodward had noticed a hive inside the wall of the old bunkhouse at the museum, but in the past bees had not been a problem and seemed docile.
Woodward decided to plug the hole that the bees were using as an entrance and was stung several times.
“I didn’t really think it was a serious problem, but after trying to plug the hole myself and getting zapped a few times, I figured it was best to have them removed by a professional,” said Woodward.
He called Lee Pierce, owner of PestPatrol in Ramona.
“These were definitely Africanized bees,” said Pierce. “Most of the European bees that we have around here are very docile, but the bees from this hive came after me immediately when I inspected the area.”
According to the County of San Diego’s website, Africanized and European bees are similar in many ways. They look alike, have the same venom, produce honey, and wax and pollinate flowers the same.
The main difference is their character. The Africanized bees are less predictable and more defensive. They will defend a greater area around their nest and will respond faster and in greater numbers to defend their queen.
When thinking that the bees were safe, Woodward may have been correct when he first noticed the hive. According to Pierce, 50 percent to 60 percent of the bee colonies in San Diego County have been overtaken by the Africanized bees.
“They will enter a European bee colony and breed with the queen,” he said. “The offspring from that combination will take on the traits of the more aggressive African bee, and the entire colony will quickly become more aggressive. That’s most likely what happened with the hive at the museum.”
When encountering hives of bees, precaution should be used at all times. The African bees like to nest in many common places around people’s yards, such as empty cans, buckets, old tires, lumber piles and cavities in fences and walls.
“If you see a few bees going into a hole in the wall, there are probably 30,000 bees inside that hole,” said Pierce. “Trying to use a bug spray or patch the hole is a bad idea. The bug spray will only provoke the hive, and patching the hole will not work for long. You will also be setting yourself up for an attack. It’s much safer to call a professional to remove the threat.”
If you are attacked, the best defense is to run. While running, try to protect your face and eyes as much as possible.
Look for the nearest shelter and get inside. Water and thick brush will not offer enough protection.
If you are nowhere near shelter, cover yourself as best as possible and keep moving away from the hive.
“The worst thing to do is to stand there and swat at them,” said Pierce. “The rapid motion of your hands only provokes the bees more.”
Once you’ve reached safety, there are several things you still need to do if you’ve been stung. Remove the stingers as soon as possible by using your fingernail, a knife blade or a credit card to scrape them off. Wash the sting area with soap and water and apply ice packs to relieve the pain and swelling.
If you have difficulty breathing or were stung numerous times, seek medical attention.
While bees have become more dangerous, they still produce a major food source in this area and are important for agriculture. Learning to live with bees and how to be safe is essential.
An informative seminar on beekeeping will be held at the Ramona Grange Hall at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 24. Becky Smith of “Becky’s Bees” will be offering information on producing your own honey at home and will be discussing Africanized bees as well.
For more information on Africanized Bees, visit www.co.san-diego.ca.us/awm/entomology.html.
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