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Officials: Wet winter could make for a busy bee season

PHOENIX – Five emergency calls in five hours were enough to prompt fire officials here to put out word that bee season has arrived, and that it could be a busy one after a wet winter.

Bees swarm in the spring as groups break away from overcrowded colonies, often setting up hives in places that bring them in contact with people. That’s no small issue with aggressive Africanized honeybees established around Arizona.

“When you run into bees and there’s an actual attack, immediately call 911. Do not delay,” said Hugh Chase, a public information officer with the Phoenix Fire Department.

Kevin Hodgson, owner of The Beekeeper: Total Bee Control, joined Chase at a news conference this week to show bees and a honeycomb he’d removed that morning from a tree in a woman’s front yard. It’s been a busy season already because of winter rain, he said.

“When it rains a lot, there’s more pollen and nectar on the plants,” he said. “That gives the bees a lot of food, which increases the number of swarms.”

Osman Kaftanoglu, project manager of the School of Life Sciences Honey Bee Research Laboratory at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus in Mesa, said all indications point to many swarms this spring.

“It will be a busy bee season and there will be a lot of swarms this month and next month,” Kaftanoglu said. “Due to the winter rains there are a lot of flowers blooming this time of year.”

Diana Sammataro, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, said it’s impossible to predict what will happen.

“There’s no way of knowing because no one is tracking where swarms come from,” Sammataro said. “Bee season depends on how many colonies there are in the winter, the climate and the location.”

Africanized honeybees are dangerous to humans and pets because they respond aggressively and in large numbers to perceived threats, a trait that makes them far more dangerous than European honeybees.

The so-called killer bees arrived in southern Arizona in 1993 and since have been found in every county. They are descendants of a variety brought to Brazil from Africa in the 1950s by scientists looking for a better honey producer. The bees bred with the local honeybees and began spreading northward.

Africanized bee attacks can be fatal to people, especially the elderly and those who are allergic to bee stings. Dogs are vulnerable because they often are chained or enclosed by fences and can’t get away.

The bees don’t go out looking for trouble with people, but confrontations often occur when someone inadvertently disturbs a hive or decides to destroy the bees without professional help.

Those who are attacked should run from the bees or get inside buildings, closing doors behind them. Diving into a pool doesn’t help; the bees will wait for a person to surface.

Chase, with the Phoenix Fire Department, said the best protection is taking steps to avoid provoking bees, such as staying on hiking trails and not trying to take a closer look at a bee hive.

“Usually curiosity is the biggest cause of bee attack situations,” he said.



Authorities offer these tips for staying safe during bee season:

• When going into areas that might have bees, wear long-sleeve clothing, insect repellent and sunscreen.

• If hiking, stay on trails.

• If attacked, run away from the bees – into a building, if possible – and call 911.

• If cornered, wave a jacket or towel at the bees.

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