Kill it! Kill it!

Yes, it is National Pollinator Week (June 16-22 in the US). Ironically, my “How do I kill them?” e-mail is pouring in faster than ever, depressing me no end. Most of these people want to know how to kill the sweet little ground bees that are drilling holes in their pristine suburban lawns. I’m not picking on anyone in particular here—I don’t have to because all the messages sound the same:

  • They are all from women (or perhaps men posing as women).
  • They all cite the necessity of protecting their children from stings (I would bet that some don’t even have children).
  • They all say they don’t want to kill the bees, but they have to do something (of course they want to kill the bees; that’s why they’re asking).

When I read these missives, I imagine an hysterical woman scared to death of anything with more than four legs. Her children are not the problem, she is. In any case, children take cues from their parents and reflect their parents’ fears. If the mother is mortified, it won’t take long before the child is too.

These people are educated or not, but in any case they are oblivious to the world around them. They believe they have a right to a germ-free, dirt-free, bug-free, snake-free, spider-free world, and they will go to any extreme to make it happen. They are the parents of children who believe carrots arise from plastic bags, that meat has no relationship to animals, that anything from a store is safe, and who—nevertheless—are afraid of their own shadows.

But maybe I’m being too hard on these folks. Certainly, I’ve been wrong before, so let me re-think:

  • Maybe we would all be happier if we could annihilate just one more creature.
  • Maybe it’s better for children to inhale cancer-causing insecticides—and absorb them through their skin—than chance a bee sting.
  • Maybe we should spend our money on something deadly (pesticides) instead of something fun (a butterfly net, a hand lens, or a popsicle).
  • Maybe we should spend our time obsessing over a patch of lawn instead of using that time to read, write, laugh, or do something useful.
  • Maybe, if we stick our heads in a hole, someone else will conserve whatever needs it (as long as it doesn’t live in our own yard).
  • Maybe we should all jump in the car (33,500 traffic fatalities a year in the US) and drive to the store to buy pesticide (67,000 poisoning cases a year in the US along with 12,000 new cases of pesticide-caused cancer) so we can avoid the possibility of an insect sting (50 fatalities per year in the US).

These statistics vary depending on the source, but basically the message is the same: you are 670 times more likely to die in a car crash than from an insect sting, yet no one hesitates to put their kid in a car. You are 1340 times more likely to be poisoned by pesticides than killed by a insect. But does that stop us from sprinkling, spraying, powdering, and injecting? Hell, no.

Honestly, folks, I don’t get it.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Roadsidecolorful
Roadside flowers. © Pollinator Partnership.

Comments

Kathleen Hoffer
Reply

What the heck is wrong with people? Many of my neighbors are wringing their hands over the plight of the pollinators, wondering what they can do to help, but when I suggest they let the white clover grow in their lawn, or perhaps plant some veggies in their yard, or let something go to seed, or any number of other things they look at me like I suggested they sacrifice their firstborn.

I spent 20 minutes watching some ground-nesting bee fly in and out of a hole in my yard but when my neighbor asked what I was doing I told him I was weeding. It could have been a teachable moment, I suppose, but I didn’t want him to freak out. People won’t believe that solitary bees really don’t pay much attention to you at all.

Actually, I’m amazed he believed me when I told him I was weeding. That’s something I rarely do.

Norma
Reply

LOVE IT! People on town think I am crazy because I relocate rattlesnakes. Thousands of acres of unused BLM land around me, so that’s where I put them.

Neil
Reply

I think some of it might have to do with being misinformed about their reactions to stings. Just the other day one of my bees stung me in the arm and it hit a vein. The swelling spread fast and large and I couldn’t believe how many people would proclaim “oh you must be HIGHLY allergic to be stings! I am HIGHLY allergic as well”. A few days and some benedryl and all was well, but you’d have thought I had the plague in that arm.

If you are convinced that you need to go to the hospital each time you get stung then I could understand how they would feel like any insect was just too big a risk.

Schu
Reply

AGREE x 1000! Its astounding how illogical people are and how out of touch. Thank heavens we have you – a calm, sounding board – to tell them. SO hope you have converted at least one of these people. I do really hope that their actions/fears are just out of ignorance.

Nancy
Reply

OMG Kathleen Hoffer are we related?

Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

Robbin R.
Reply

Haha at Kathleen’s comment too funny. And Amen to Rusty!

Debbie
Reply

Amen Sista!

Michael
Reply

I live in an 11 unit place. I got permission to have a beehive as long as nobody else minded. But of course the girlfriend of a tenant complained stating that she’s allergic to bees. She also stated that her whole family is allergic, although none have ever been stung! Needless to say I had to find another place for them! So in celebration of pollinator week, I bought 50 additional colonies! I just love my girls!

Rusty
Reply

Michael,

Fifty! Wow! But all that allergy stuff p– me off: everyone says they are allergic, very few actually are, at least according to the CDC. Now when someone tells me they are allergic, I say, “Good. Since you know you are allergic I’m confident that your Epipen is fresh and with you all all times.”

Michael Lowe
Reply

Everyone deserves a good venting or a bout of ranting every now and then. I hope you feel better. Sadly, there is a great deal of truth powering your comments. I believe the root cause is what your comments touch on – ignorance. Americans as a whole rank science pretty far down their list of important subjects for high school or college or as a subject for continuing education. Look at our science and math scores as a country against other industrialized nations. How many of your neighbors subscribe to Scientific American or Science or Popular Mechanics or even National Geographic? How many well educated people do you know and how many of them have a science degree? And where are they supposed to learn that the bees boring holes in their yard are harmless? From the mass media? Most counties in my part of the country can’t even afford to keep their county extension offices open. No funding. So it really is up to us. We who are interested enough to read this blog and to be beekeepers. We cannot pass up any learning opportunities. We have to respond to expressions of concern about the pollinators by pointing out that pollinators do not just include honeybees. We have to share what we know. We have to fight ignorance.

My three cents (inflation, don’t you know).

Michael

Anna S.
Reply

I agree with Michael — ignorance is at the core of the problem and it stems from the educational system. But ignorant people are easy to manipulate. And so are those who are afraid to step out of their comfort zone. Learning how to protect bees means stepping out of this comfort zone.

B
Reply

No kidding. It is a symptom of a failing system of things. B

Rusty
Reply

B,

I agree with the failed-system theory, and I think our educational system is chiefly at fault. But even educated people often have their priorities all tangled up. The perfect lawn is a good example.

Mariana
Reply

A couple of weeks ago we hosted the Friday Adventure Group–homeschooled children from our neighborhood. (Our next-door neighbors has three children involved.) We provided a short slide show, a screen room for viewing, and an up-close look at a bunch of nice Italian girls. We gave them (the kids) some honey and ended up the session with a few minutes by a native buckwheat out front. We looked at the native bees on it as well as the honeybees, discussing the needs of them all. We got rave reviews from the parents attending and none of the children had any issues–in fact they really enjoyed finding the teeny bees (don’t know what kind) and seeing that bees are just busy doing bee things and don’t really care about us. It was great, and their questions were all good. A lot of good information was presented and absorbed.

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were pleased to introduce the children (and the parents) to a world they hadn’t experienced before. None showed much fear, even though one mother and one child were known to be allergic (and brought their epi-pens). We plan to have two of the next-doors suit up with us and really get a look into the hives.

This is the type of outreach we need at all levels–presentation without fear, with a sense of wonder and an understanding of our place in the world and our responsibility for it. We all have to take a part in educating others. Work locally to educate your neighbors, take part in club-sponsored demos, mentor a new beekeeper.
It’s up to all of us.

Mike F
Reply

Yes; too many people equate the inevitable swelling and itching resulting from their first bee sting with an allergy. It is unpleasant. Of course it is. But in the vast majority of cases there is nothing to worry about. I suspect the nation’s pain threshold and tolerance of inconvenience is so low as to be negligible. What is needed is a balanced perspective and an acceptance of risk, but how on earth do you achieve that? I am not suggesting that all schools should give their kids a bee sting as a scientific experiment – or am I?

No, we just have to keep plugging away at dispelling ignorance and illogical fear, but there are few of us and many of them,

Don WHITE
Reply

How much we have destroyed, Indians, buffalo, wildlife and people in general. Because it was a challenge or an inconvenience to the way we want to live. We move into the suburbs, where the wildlife has lived for ever, kill anything that we don’t understand or is a threat when we go in their environment. Don’t try to learn to live with it, consider it a threat because we don’t understand it. DESTROY IT

cgrey8
Reply

The same era of people that say things like “Why do farmers have to kill so many animals? Why can’t they just go to the store and buy their food like everybody else does?”

Anna
Reply

Oh Rusty. I feel your pain but just remember the story I shared with you…disaster averted because I have good, reasonable neighbors. There are some out there.

By blogging, talking, sharing and educating, we save them all, animals AND people.

Anna
Reply

Sorry, another comment on the allergies. Same neighbor told me he was allergic to yellow jacket stings but NOT bee venom and in any case, he had an Epipen and for me not to be worried about my bees.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

A local school district recently declined a student request for putting up a pollinator wall as a community project at a school teaching garden because of some parent hysteria. Bee means hives, hives mean attack, … . Yaaaacch!

Lots of work to do. Guess that means opportunities for education.

Glen

Rusty
Reply

The school district declining gives the naysayers the “I told you so” position. So sad.

Pat
Reply

Our beekeeping group does an info booth at the county fair, and we have an observation hive there. It annoys me no end to see the socialization-based fear that gets instilled in some kids by their elders. Most are very excited and curious, and love to look for the queen. But the ones with the “highly allergic” mom are the most likely to hang back, and look on wistfully. And you’re right, it’s almost always the mom. I think it’s more encouraged in our society for women to have this borderline hysterical reaction to insects. The men are the ones who have to get close enough to do the killing. :-/

Glen Buschmann
Reply

HI Pat (& Rusty) -

I’ve been bringing non-honeybee materials (and myself) to beekeeper booths this year. People express great surprise at, and interest in, the diversity of bees beyond honeybees. So now our beekeeper assn will expand its booth at the county fair booth (starting this year) to include native /non-honey bees. It required some homework and being a regular advocate at the beekeeper meetings, but it has made a difference. As vexing as my school story is, (above), there are reasons to be hopeful too.

Ellen
Reply

We all need to learn how to live with animals and bugs again or we will not live!

Mary
Reply

When I told someone at work that I had a beehive, she said, “Eeek! Can’t you call someone to get rid of it???!!!” A neighbor said, “Why do you take care of insects that will sting you??? Get a parakeet or something…” Another suggestion from someone else was to get some goldfish…”you can always flush ‘em when you get bored with ‘em.” People are too far removed from the reality of nature. I read once that a class of inner city kids were brought to a dairy farm. They were all totally grossed out to *see* where and what milk came from. They thought it was like soda…just something in a carton that you bought at the supermarket. It’s scary, this plastic world we’ve created for ourselves.

Rusty
Reply

Mary,

When I was a kid I used to have nightmares about people flushing fish down the toilet. Humans are so unbelievably cruel.

Darkstone
Reply

Amen, Rusty! It’s a lot ignorance. I have a foreclosed home beside my property and I encountered the same issue there this week. We’ve been enjoying it being foreclosed for the last two years because the former neighbors were big sprayers. However this week a property company sent in a cleaning crew to spiff everything up so that they can try to sell the place. The crew member was spraying RoundUp on a sidewalk about 6 inches from a brand-new bed of rhubarb I just planted. I went out and had a fit! He replied with, “but it’s just RoundUp, it’s totally safe and it’ll only kill the grass.” Wrong, wrong, and wrong!

I worked hard to ratchet down my frustration so that I could educate him. I also informed him that these were food plants, and my daughter and my dogs play in that yard right beside the poison he was dumping. I’m glad my bees are out of the country at my dad’s house, safe from this poison pourer. I could tell he thought I’m nuts! My daughter loves watching our plants grow & tells me about & takes pics of all the pollinators she sees on our herbs and echinacea (and she’s 16—the age when kids usually couldn’t care less about the natural world!). I’ve now got “organic garden—no spraying” signs on order!!!

Rusty
Reply

The name RoundUp was originally chosen because it would “round up” all the plants in sight and kill them all. So sad.

Gretchen
Reply

This is a confession: I admit that I have sent you one of those “How do I kill it?” emails.

Some sort of wasp colony set up home amongst my tomatillos. When I went to water them, I got a hell of a sting, smarted for weeks (and glad I have been up on my bee and vespid-allergy shots). Well, you never replied, and I never got around to doing a non-pesticide technique. I gave them a wide berth, then a bit smaller, then smaller, and found that I could water and work near them after all; if I didn’t disturb their actual hole (actually a huge cavern!!!!) they didn’t bother me. Then I “softly” ID’d them as a wasp that parasites on grasshoppers, and I was especially glad I didn’t kill them. This year, they have moved elsewhere.

Rusty
Reply

Gretchen,

That’s a good tale (except the part about me not answering . . . I wonder why). Anyway, it’s amazing how often we find out that something we thought was “bad” is actually “good.” All of us have that initial response about things we are unfamiliar with, I think (especially when they sting us). It is so much more healthy to think of ourselves as part of the system instead of lords of the system.

John
Reply

I read this and I agree. In some ways, it is sad. No, in most ways, it is sad. Although I think I am too far jaded to do much more that float just between smiles and tears, I appreciate people who still try and enlighten those around who would rather cruise on blissfully unchallenged.

Renaldo
Reply

Rusty,

Your plaintiff cry is the result of a social war, fought and lost, I fear. I plead guilty in part in that. Thirty years ago, I quit butchering our rabbits because I got a soft heart for the beautiful little things and just couldn’t whack them any more. They ate good and the ones we gave away when we quit the rabbit business were all butchered by someone else.

Hypocrite, thy name is Renaldo. I suppose we are all guilty to one degree or another.
Here, we do our best. We let the grass grow brown as summer comes. Short and brown is OK with us. We have our organic (whatever the hell that means) orchard. Table and wine grapes, raspberry, blackberry trellis, vegetable garden, flower garden, and the neighbors hate it all.
Not landscaped, they say. And the bees, why do you have to have bees? They should be somewhere else.

They want tidy. Neat. Landscaped. They have sand machines, motor homes, trailers, pretty much everything they have has a gas powered engine attached. They wash their machines with a power washer, dry them with powered leaf blowers, and then run them up and down the driveway to finish drying them off. They have people over and feature amplified music and disc jockeys to entertain their friends into the early hours. They have a burn barrel and burn plastic to make it all go away.

That’s America today. These good people buy “organic” when they can. They recycle when it’s convenient. They use 4 times the electricity we do, they haul their sand machines to the coast behind their diesel-powered multi slide motor home. Oh, and they REALLY want us to kill our bees because the bees get water from their saltwater swimming pool. VERY frightening. Naturally, their whole family is allergic to bee stings, lactose intolerant, and allergic to peanuts.

I pray a pox upon them all. Odds are we are on the losing side of this social conflict.
Still, our hive number two, which deaded out this spring, has a new feral colony alive and struggling to expand. Hive one is going gangbusters and wildly active. The last Western Bluebird nest fledged FIVE babies, the raspberries are wonderful, the blackberries look wonderful, the Asian pears look good (last year was a bust), we got good cherries this spring, the apples are progressing well.

In the end, we simply keep on keeping on. It’s all we can do. Our family motto is, Non carborendum, illegitimii. Latin for, Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Rusty
Reply

Renaldo,

I love your letter. It reminded me of a neighbor I have. They buy all organic food and then the husband comes home and sprays poison all over the yard. A few days ago he was spraying while his pre-school son tagged along, no one wearing any protective gear, everyone breathing the stuff as if it weren’t designed to kill living things. Is it marketing that makes us behave this way? Or just plain ignorance?

I think we have lost. I don’t believe life on earth will persist. It’s just a question of time before we tweak the planet such that it can no longer support us. People have such fear of bees, but what they should be afraid of is our way of life. Bees won’t destroy the planet, we will, and we’re already well on our way.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

Fire and Ice, Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Adam C
Reply

Rusty, I think you’re half right. I think we may have done too much that people may not persist. Life though is pretty persistent. From the creatures living in deep sea vents, to bacteria in Antarctica – something will live on, and time heals all wounds. I just don’t know if people will be around to see it.

Robbin R.
Reply

Renaldo, you are a truth sayer! Made me laugh because I have thought those same plagues on a neighbor that complains the honey bees are all over her lavender. Probably are bumblebees anyhow! Ha! When my bees swarmed this season I was so nervous the neighbors would freak out. One of them was sitting in their yard and never noticed, until I had my suit on spraying them with sugar water to ground some of them. They still didn’t really know, just the neighbor lady in that weird suit! Ha.

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