After having a couple of experiences recently, Mary Whitman of Somerton has a few concerns about the local bee population.

"I think the week after the Keslar accident they moved a couple of beehives from the melon field near my house," said Whitman. "That day they were after me." The Keslar incident involved two young children who were accidentally drowned after a bee attack. 

Whitman and her mare were attacked by some of the remaining bees after hive removal the following day, and she said that her neighbor and neighbor's dog were also attacked recently.

"This is an ongoing thing when they move these hives during the day," she continued. "There needs to be a law about moving them during the day. There should be some kind of regulation because this is a constant threat."

With the weather warming up, bees are beginning to get more active and new swarms are forming up, according to local beekeeper Chris Edington. He says that while he is often called out to capture swarms, the few leftover bees that Whitman speaks of are just an unavoidable fact of life in living side-by-side with the insects.

"It's impossible to get every bee," he said. "A swarm on a tree is going to be less docile because they don't have any work to keep them busy. They're looking for a home."

The best advice in dealing with swarms, said Edington, is to wait three to five days.

"I know that people freak out about a big ball of bees on a tree in their front yard," he said. "But once they find a home, they'll be gone."

However, those swarms - essentially new hives with a queen looking for a new home - are actually advantageous for beekeepers economically.

"You can buy a pack of bees (a colony of about 13 pounds with a queen) for about $168 now," said Edington. "But the cheapest and easiest thing is to go out and capture swarms... The trick to it is you have to capture the queen."

The queen is the key to any beehive. Their main job is to mate with drone bees once a year and continuously produce eggs that will replace workers and other posts within the colony. However, should she mate with an Africanized drone, that creates the potential to make an entire colony Africanized. This is a concern of Whitman's.

"The Africanized bees are getting aggressive," said Whitman. "There's so many of them too. The Africanized bees are so interbred now with the local bee population."

Edington says that while there certainly are Africanized bees in the area, they are far from in every bee hive locally.

"Most of the bees here come from beekeepers," said Edington. "And we don't keep Africanized bees. Once we find that they have become Africanized, we automatically re-queen the colony."

Re-queening involves purchasing a new queen bee, killing the current queen, and placing the new one in with a bee treat so that she will not be killed by the workers.

With that said though, it is impossible to tell without doing tests whether a bee colony is Africanized or not.

"Just because a bee stings you does not mean it is Africanized," he said. "All you can really do to be able to do is tell the difference between an aggressive bee and not so aggressive bee."

Weather conditions also play a large role in bee behavior.

"If it is a cloudy day or windy day, they're all going to be agitated," he said.

Edington said that this bee season, if you are allergic to bees make sure you keep an epipen on you and do not try and do hive or swarm removal yourself. While swarms can be captured, if you find a hive in the walls of your home, often the only possible option is to call an exterminator.

"Even that isn't always effective," he said. "They might not get all the bees, and they may just raise a new queen and colony."

Also, even if a hive is eliminated, it is necessary to remove the actual physical structures the bees created along with the honey so as to maintain the structural integrity of your home. That can be incredibly expensive. The best way to handle the situation is to have a qualified person cover up any cracks so that the bee colony is unable to sustain itself and dies off.

With that said, from an environmental and economic standpoint, it is important to maintain a healthy bee population. They pollinate many of the agricultural fields in Yuma. While their value may be known locally and the bee population healthy, the bee die-offs that have been happening nationally are of concern locally as well.

"Even if the bee population drop is not happening here, it still affects us," said Edington. "It leads to a rise in prices if you want to buy a pack or a queen.

"Prices rose last summer cause of the water crisis in California," he continued. "So we have to keep our eye on that."

Edington concluded by saying that bees not only give us food and money, but also education.

"I love beekeeping because you can learn," he said. "There's a lot you can learn from them, and you can't learn that all even in a lifetime."

Yuma Sun Staff Writer Kevin G. Andrade can be contacted at 928-539-6853 or kandrade@yumasun.com.

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