Why Those Africanized Bees Attacked, and Other Wisdom from North Texas' Bee Gurus

In late July, a swarm of bees attacked Kristen Beauregard and her two prize miniature ponies in Pantego, a small township near Arlington.

Some 300,000 bees had built a hive inside of a shed on Beauregard's property. Pantego city officials have confirmed that the bees in the attack were of the "Africanized" variety, which are typically more aggressive than their European counterparts. (The remaining bees have since been removed from the property by a bee keeper.) Beauregard was stung over 200 times and has recovered. But her horses and a few nearby chickens were killed.

It makes us all pause and think twice when our blooming Texas sage bushes are thick with bees. Is there a hive nearby that we should be aware of, or is this normal business?

We emailed with urban bee wranglers Susan and Brandon Pollard to learn a little more about the event in Pantego. The Pollards keep micro-apiaries throughout the Dallas area, collect and sell "ZIP Code Honey" at local farmers markets and host a variety of educational events all year long. You can learn more about them through their Facebook page Texas Honeybee Guild.

How rare is the kind of event that happened in Pantego? Fairly rare in areas where there is a strong beekeeping community. The European Honeybees kept in managed colonies are bred to be gentle. When these European traits are dominant in local bee populations, Africanized genetics are neutralized, making such an event very unlikely to occur.

Why would the bees attack like this? Any ideas? Such defensive behavior is not typical of the European Honeybees, which are kept by beekeepers in North Texas. "Africanized" bees are much more defensive by nature, and will attack with relatively little provocation. In areas with fewer domesticated colonies, Africanized bees may dominate. Managed colonies of European Honeybees neutralize these aggressive traits. Basically, the more beekeepers the better.

A laboratory-confirmed case of Africanized bees by the state's apiary inspector may be evidence of a shortage of beekeepers maintaining gentle colonies in a specific region. Beekeepers are largely responsible for an area's genetic pool by selecting more favorable and workable, less defensive traits.

What should we look for around our homes, gardens and such in terms of bees and hives? Appreciate that there are bees buzzing around your gardens and shrubs, collecting nectar and pollen from each flower. If you notice a stream of bees coming and going with determination from a small opening in a tree, water meter box, or other cozy space, you may have found a hive of bees that has taken up residence there.

Bees love to take shelter in vacant spaces such as inverted flower pots with holes in the bottom, covered hot tubs, unused composters, owl houses and lateral surfaces upon which they can build. Bees make their homes in the darnedest places.

If we do see a hive, or perhaps a few bees buzzing around an opening/crack around the house (like an opening to the attack), what should we do? First, don't panic. If you see bees, it could just be a swarm cluster in transit to a new home, taking time out to rest. A swarm may move on within hours, before a beekeeper can even arrive -- or it may stay a little longer. The bees will be looking for attractive nesting sites. They need a lateral space in which to build their honeycomb home. Remove attractive nesting sites nearby, and tape or caulk any holes that could provide them lodging. Mark the immediate area and stay away -- do not disturb, and let them be. If the bees remain longer than two to three days, or if you see a steady stream of bees coming and going from an opening, they have probably taken up residence in a vacant space. If the colony is up high in a tree, don't worry -- the bees probably won't be a problem. If it's in a house, you want to call on your local beekeeper to relocate the bees.

The Texas Honeybee Guild is primarily concerned with honeybee conservation and education -- we love to rescue bees. As an advocacy, we take as many rescues as we can, and also refer to local clubs and experienced beekeepers who don't use pesticides or removal methods that could harm the bees. Local clubs can be a great resource to find beekeepers willing to assist.

In Dallas, Trinity Valley Bee Keepers Association, or in Collin County, the Collin County Hobby Bee Keepers.

In Fort Worth, Metro Beekeepers.

Bees on the Net is one resource to find a list of Texas clubs and beekeepers who are experienced at live bee removal.

About "Africanized" bees: I've read that a lot are hybrids now. I've also read that it's impossible to tell if it's Africanized just by looking at a bee. Can you clarify the different types of bees? Bees raised for honey in North America are almost always of European stock. African bees were initially introduced to South America from Africa, where they were successful. These bees have mingled their genes with European honeybees as they migrated north and made their way to Texas. There are pockets of Africanized bees in open, sparsely populated regions where beekeepers are few and far between.

Sometimes, during rescues, we encounter bees that are less gentle than those in our managed colonies (we call these "hot" bees). These bees can be very defensive, and are sometimes downright irritable. In such an instance, we introduce a new queen with a more favorable disposition to neutralize unwanted traits.

What, if anything, do we take from this event? Take caution when you see bees in a cluster. Get to know an experienced local beekeeper. Respect this life form -- one in three bites of food that we eat depends on the presence of these angels of agriculture. The world of bees is as fascinating and beautiful as the flowers they pollinate. Bees are messengers, symbols of abundance and prosperity. We need them, and they need us to know more about them.

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