Honeybee swarms plaguing homeowners in North Texas

Posted Monday, Jun. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Bee removal dispatcher Melanie Johnson is calling it the “Bee Armageddon.”

She’s hearing from 100 or more people a day who are frantically calling Little Giant Beekeepers for help in removing swarms of honeybees that are either scouting around for new homes or have taken up permanent residence.

Bee removal experts in North Texas say they are seeing a 20 to 30 percent increase in swarms this season.

Christine Garcia, who owns Bee Charmer, has been removing bees from trees, barbecue grills, sprinkler systems, attics, fences, garages, water meters and even outdoor televisions.

“It has been crazy,” she said. “They’ll get into everything.”

Harold Wright, who owns Bee Safe Bee Removal, has four crews scrambling to keep up. “It’s phenomenal. My guys are slammed. ”

Michelle May, a dispatcher for Bee Safe, said she is fielding up to 150 calls a day. She got her last call Thursday at 11 p.m. and the phone started ringing again at 5 a.m. Friday.

“It has been perfect weather for bees. Just like Texans, bees don’t like the heat and they have been moving around before it gets too hot,” she said.

Johnson said she’s getting about 100 calls a day.

“It’s really unusual. Don’t let anybody tell you we are running out of bees,” she said.

A disorder known as colony collapse has harmed beehives in recent years, but the wild honeybee population is still healthy, said Dr. Sonia Swiger, a Texas Agrilife Extension Service entomologist in Stephenville.

“When they talk about colony collapse, those are the ones that are maintained in hives. Wild, native bees are doing just fine,” she said.

Swiger says a cool spring has extended the swarm season.

“With winter dragging on a little bit, it took a little longer for plants and flowers to come out so it’s happening a little later,” she said.

“Since there is plenty for them to eat their hives are getting bigger. They swarm when the hive gets overcrowded. The queen takes her original workers and leaves a new queen behind to keep the other colony going,” she said.

While looking for a new nest site, the swarms sometimes stop to rest and the thousands of bees form a protective layer around the queen as they take a break on tree limbs, patio furniture and eaves.

The swarms are harmless unless attacked, Swiger said.

“They don’t have any young with them or any food, so they aren’t protecting anything. They are just looking for a new home,” the entomologist said.

But if they hang around for more than three days, they may have decided to stay put, she said.

Swiger says fears about Africanized bees, a hybrid strain that is much more aggressive than native honeybees, got ratcheted up this month after a Waco-area farmer was killed when he ran over a large hive with his tractor. A beekeeper who destroyed the hive estimated it contained 40,000 bees.

“I don’t think people were worried about swarms until that happened. It is very rare for someone to get killed,” she said. “That is the problem with the Africanized bees, they will chase you farther and they will send more people after you.”

Garcia says only about 1 in 20 of the hives she encounters are made up of hybrid bees, which she exterminates with dusts and sprays.

“The hybrids are really bad. They bring their whole body into stinging,” she said. “They can sting right through the bee suit.”

She and Wright are both beekeepers and they always try to relocate native bees rather than killing them.

“We use smoke and we open up what they are in and we remove the eggs, the bees, the honey and the hive,” Garcia said. “We move them with 5-gallon buckets with screens on top.”

The swarm season will wind down as rains diminish and temperatures climb, Garcia said.

“Whenever we get rains, the bees swarm. When we get into the high 90s and the rain stops, the bee season really slows down.”

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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