Why did bees attack in Pantego, Fort Worth?

Posted Monday, Aug. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Sunday’s bee attack in which an elderly Fort Worth man was stung more than 100 times and a paramedic was also taken to a hospital is the latest example of bees becoming aggressive across Texas this summer.

In July, a Pantego woman was stung about 200 times and two miniature horses were killed in an attack by thousands of bees. And on June 1, a man in the Central Texas town of Moody died after bees from a colony of 40,000 repeatedly stung him.

The attacks are often linked to aggressive Africanized bees, which first appeared in the United States more than 20 years ago — and are blamed for eight deaths since 1990 — according to the Texas Agrilife Extension Service.

But because there is no in-state lab to conduct the tests, bees are rarely tested in Texas to determine their species.

Samples were collected from both Sunday’s attack and the Pantego case and were shipped to the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Pantego officials said Monday that they are still awaiting results from the July attack.

Bill Baxter, an inspector with Texas A&M University’s Texas Apiary Inspection Service, said preliminary tests on the Pantego attack didn’t find any signs that the bees were Africanized.

Baxter said that under the right circumstances, non-Africanized bees can also be aggressive. If something makes them feel threatened, they will sting.

“What people don’t realize and understand is if they get triggered, they’re fixing to attack,” Baxter said. “Just be aware of your surroundings. Walk around and look before you start a lawn mower. … Look in eaves and the corners of the attic.”

In Fort Worth in the 3700 block of Galvez Avenue, where the bees attacked Sunday, about 120 pounds of honeycombs were removed from inside the home, said Christine Garcia, a bee removal specialist.

“It was pretty large,” Garcia said. “When I worked on them, they didn’t attack me at all. I don’t know why the gentleman got stung so much. I feel really bad for him.”

A MedStar paramedic who received multiple stings was taken to a hospital Sunday but was back on the job Monday. Several firefighters were also stung.

For the most part, bee removal experts said, bees haven’t been overly aggressive this summer.

“I haven’t seen them being aggressive at all,” said Wise County beekeeper Donavan Johns, who has traveled all over North Texas removing bees.

Garcia estimates that about 1 in every 35 hives contains aggressive bees. But it has been enough to scare some bee removal specialists.

“I want to stay in the bee removal business but I’m getting kind of nervous with these incidents in Pantego and down in Central Texas,” Johns said. “How do you defend yourself against thousands of bees? I definitely wouldn’t be messing with them without a [bee] suit or no smoke. I wouldn’t do that at all.”

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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