We can reduce the levels of aggression over many square miles by establishing our own managed honey bees of known temperament in designated areas along trails, in and along parks, in state lands, or anywhere incidents are likely to occur.
As the bee spreads through Florida, a densely populated state, officials worry that public fear may force misguided efforts to combat them. “News reports of mass stinging attacks will promote concern and in some cases panic and anxiety, and cause citizens to demand responsible agencies and organizations to take action to help ensure their safety. We anticipate increased pressure from the public to ban beekeeping in urban and suburban areas. This action would be counter-productive. Beekeepers maintaining managed colonies…are our best defense against an area becoming saturated with AHB. These managed bees are filling an ecological niche that would soon be occupied by less desirable colonies if it were vacant.”
— Florida African Bee Action Plan
The “africanized” honey bee is widely feared by the public, a reaction that has been amplified by sensationalist movies and some media reports. Statistically, stings from highly defensive bees kill fewer than five or six people per year in the United States.
It has been estimated that there are anywhere from 5 to 10 unmanaged wild beehives per square mile. Considering a land area of 9,100 square miles for Pima County this equates to an estimated 45,500 to 91,000 wild hives at any given time. If a conservative average of 68,000 wild hives is assumed, each healthy wild hive that successfully overwinters may reproduce, or swarm, anywhere from 1 to 6 times. If we considered an average of only 3 swarms per healthy hive, hive extermination would have to occur at a rate of over 204,000 per year just to keep the number of established colonies constant.
This is a staggering (and rather conservative) number of swarm removals that is unlikely to occur through extermination alone. This represents over 1,115 swarms per day over a six month period. Assuming that all swarms could be found before entering a man-made structure, and assuming that the rate of swarming was evenly dispersed over this time period at a constant rate, 37 pest control companies would have to dedicate 5 employees each to conduct an average of 6 swarm exterminations per day during swarm season to keep up with this number.
Add to this the complication that swarm events are highly variable and affected greatly by weather conditions that are much more favorable at very specific times of the year which can cause huge spikes of issuing swarms in a very short time period. At present wild colonies are largely found and dealt with after a home or business owner notices a swarm on a tree or an established hive within a wall. Needless to say, if the number of established colonies cannot be reduced or held constant, the number of hives and resulting swarms will grow over time.
Despite these figures it is important to put things into perspective. While deaths from honey bee stings kill a handful of people per year in the United States, on average 35,000 people per year die in fatal automobile accidents. Simultaneously, an additional 3,000 people per year die of food borne illnesses, and an additional 130,000 per year are hospitalized.
Unfortunately, the character of the human species is such that we respond quickly to fear-based messages, and in many cases the resulting actions and decisions are short-term and irrational in nature. How we react to unfortunate tragedies is largely determined by the media and how it is promoted.
Obviously, even if all hives could be located, there are not enough experienced pest exterminators or beekeepers to eliminate or relocate all of these hives. Locating wild hives without first being alerted by a homeowner is somewhat of an art and requires significant time, experience and understanding of honey bee behavior. Attempting to locate hidden hive locations is also not economically feasible due to these factors.
A wild swarm looks for any protected cavity in all types of hollow walls, crawl spaces, trees, saguaros, rock outcroppings, utility boxes, abandoned vehicles, appliances, birdhouses, etc. Due to the relative abundance of year-round non-native nectar and pollen foraging, the easy access to water sources via leaky fixtures, and lots of structural cavities, urban areas are ideal places that encourage healthy and increasing populations of wild honey bees. Unfortunately, this also brings them into direct contact with dense human populations and increases the likelihood of accidents.
The unintended costs of disturbing a potentially defensive hive can range greatly, and may include costs for fire service, hospitalization, inspections, and removal from homes, businesses, institutions, and public utility boxes.
Fortunately, with an understanding of honey bee behavior and noting other examples of success in working with africanized honey bees, another solution exists. A whole-systems approach to managing wild honey bee populations to minimize risk to the public can be employed.
Plan for Mitigation
Not all hives suspected of having africanized genes show overly defensive behavior; some colonies are docile which provides a starting point for beekeepers to propagate a gentler stock. This has been done in Brazil and Mexico, where bee incidents are much less common than they were during the first wave of the African bees’ colonization. Now that the African bee has been “re-domesticated”, it is considered the bee of choice for beekeeping in Brazil.
“The continued maintenance of domestic honey bee populations is our best defense against Africanization. The single most counterproductive reaction to the potential influx of Africanized bees would be to remove domestic honey bee colonies, especially those kept by hobbyists, from urban, recreational and agricultural areas. Losses of colonies over which beekeepers have genetic control could simply accelerate and assure Africanization in the form of feral colonies which may not be controlled.”
– University of Arizona, Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture, 1988
ReZoNation Farm is experienced in the relocation of wild hives as well as calming existing aggressive hives through vigorous selection of preferred colonies and breeding of queens from selected regionally adapted hives. In addition, ReZoNation Farm trains future beekeepers and other interested parties how to deal with aggressive colonies to mitigate emergency situations, reduce potential for hazards, and to plan the long-term establishment of apiaries for hive product production while selecting for desired characteristics.
These strategies form the basis of what ReZoNation Farm can offer to the public and agencies charged with the responsibility of maintaining the safety of public spaces to the extent possible. Through old techniques we are able to locate established hives in rough terrain. More importantly, we can develop a long-term plan to mitigate and minimize public interaction with highly defensive honeybees while employing trained beekeepers to provide this public service.
With sufficient investment and support we can reduce the likelihood of unintentional honey bee encounters over many square miles by establishing our own managed honey bees of known temperament in designated areas along trails, in and along parks, in state lands, or anywhere incidents are likely to occur. Deploying and managing control-hives that increase the concentration of preferred mating drones in the vicinity of targeted wild hives is the basis for successfully calming all hives in a given area over time. Establishing control-hives in places that are sometimes difficult to access represents a multi-year investment of time and resources that should not be taken for granted.
In addition, seasonal maintenance of installed swarm traps can decrease the instances of wild swarms taking up residence in man-made structures, leading to a more effective, safer, and less invasive way of managing regional wild populations.
Upon request ReZoNation Farm can develop a project estimate of costs specific to your need.
Part of ReZoNation Farm’s mission is to once again make beekeeping accessible to the general public while simultaneously managing honey bee behavior on a regional scale in the interest of public health and our environment.