absconding miscellaneous musings pesticides

Christmas swarm saved by caring homeowner

About two days before Christmas I got an e-mail from an Arizona homeowner about a swarm of bees that were hanging from the eaves of her house. She said the weather had been unusually warm, but just as it started to change for the worse, the swarm of bees arrived. She didn’t want them to die but she didn’t want them to move into her house or yard so she wondered what she could do.

I wrote back and suggested she contact a beekeeper in her area—not an exterminator or pest control company—and see if someone would come and get them. I also told her that a beekeeper might be able to save them by feeding them honey or sugar syrup but that they would almost surely die if left to their own devices. A swarm at this time of year is often known as a “starvation swarm” because, most likely, they were out of food at home so they absconded in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

Much to my surprise she e-mailed back the next day and said a beekeeper had come to her home and captured the swarm. She also said the beekeeper promised he would do his best to keep them alive. But here’s the clincher: based on what I had written, she had put out sugar syrup for the bees until the beekeeper arrived!

I thought this was one of the sweetest (no pun) and caring things I’ve ever known a non-beekeeper to do. I was so impressed. In my experience, people like to run out and kill swarms—or pay to have them killed—immediately. And here was a complete stranger reading between the lines of my e-mail and feeding sugar syrup to a hoard of insects—stinging insects that can be strange and intimidating, not to mention just plain scary, to a non-beekeeper.

I thought about this incident a lot during the Christmas holiday. It occurred just several days after my daughter told me about a friend of hers who recently had a swarm land on her porch rail. Instead of calling a beekeeper she went to Home Depot, bought a spray can of poison, and emptied it on the bees. My daughter was incensed over this indiscriminate use of pesticide—not only because of the dead bees but because of the unborn twins the woman is carrying. Chances are she was not wearing protective gear and she (and the twins) got a good dose of whatever it was before she was finished. So sad. So unnecessary.

To the lady in Arizona I say “Thank you!” To the lady in Washington I say “Hope your kids are okay.” To everyone else I say, “Call a beekeeper before an exterminator.” Just a little bit of empathy can go a very long way.


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  • While it’s a feel good story, Rusty, chances are these were Africanized Honey Bees. We here in Florida are seeing more and more of these AHB, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that we encounter swarms that span the behavioural spectrum, some very docile, and some very defensive.

    I’ve seen some that are as defensive as the meanest AHB colony; we had an experienced technician that was attacked severely earlier this spring while working a swarm. He was (thankfully, at least) only wearing a veil, and had his entire body covered by stinging bees, having to resort to running back to his truck, getting inside, and turning the A/C on high to immobilize the bees.

    So, while I am a passionate beekeeping advocate, I have to inject some caution when dealing with wild bees in AHB territories. Yes, I’m controversial, but with the volume of feral bee work we do in AHB territory, I think I see things others might not. Please don’t be so concerned about these AHB ferals, instead, support beekeeping with races that are managed..in fact, take a beekeeping course and start keeping a hive box or two! That can be the best way to participate and help beekeeping. Support scientific research, we’ve got some university researchers doing some great work! Most will gladly take your donations through foundations, etc.

    Bees out!
    Richard Martyniak

    • Richard,

      It was not lost on me that those bees could have been Africanized. I debated mentioning it. In any case, that possibility provides even more of a reason to call an experienced beekeeper rather than purchasing a can of pesticide. An experienced beekeeper in an Africanized area would be able to make an informed decision. And not all swarms will be Africanized. Apparently, this particular swarm was captured without incident.

      My point here is that indiscriminate killing of any species without knowledge or expertise must be stopped. And even when the organism in question must be killed, collateral damage to other organisms (including humans) and the environment must be limited.

      I realize that you are a pest control professional, but you are also a beekeeper. Most are not. I stand by my advice to call a beekeeper first. If he says the swarm is probably Africanized, I would take his word on it.

  • Richard,

    You can believe this or not, as you like. But as I was writing this post I was thinking of you. I said to myself, “Self, Martyniak is going to jump all over your frame for writing this.” But I wrote it anyway. So there you have it; I wasn’t one bit surprised that you responded. I knew some people might be opposed, but I knew for sure you would be. Pretty smart, eh?

  • Am touched by the kindness of the homeowner. To her I say thank you for saving swarm. To others I say please be kind and call a beekeeper whenever you encounter a swarm.