County Extension Agent
Did you know bees have five eyes and can fly about 20 mph? Or that the average beehive can hold an estimated 50,000 bees? Or that the average U.S. citizen consumes 1.3 pounds of honey each year and a bee must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey?
While these might be interesting facts, there is other important information homeowners need to be aware of. Bees are not just the pretty yellow and black insects flying around; they’re not “killers” either. Honey bees are important because they are the best pollinators of our crops and flowers. Without honey bees, we would have inferior fruit and vegetable crops, both commercially and in our home gardens. History has shown us we can learn to live with honey bees safely.
That said, people should use extreme caution when around bees. Bees are protective of their homes in the same way other creatures are protective of their homes. Usually, honey bees will only sting when they feel something/ someone is threatening their hives, baby bees and honey. On the other hand, most of my bee calls come during early spring and summer when bees are swarming (looking for a new home). Bees that are swarming typically will not bother individuals around them, and they will seem very docile or calm; this is because they are busy moving to a new location and do not have anything that they feel they must defend. But, you should always be cautious around bees at any time. This is true of both regular European honey bees and Africanized honey bees.
In Texas we have two primary types of honey bees: the European and Africanized. The only visual difference between the two types is Africanized honey bees are slightly smaller in size. The only way to find out if honey bees are European or Africanized is to have a sample analyzed. Africanized honey bees are sometimes known as “killer” bees. This exaggerated nickname originated several decades ago when first used in a news magazine reporting that several people died after having been stung by bees.
It is important to know that Africanized and European worker honey bees can only sting one time. This is because the edges of their stingers are jagged and once the stinger penetrates the skin it gets caught and will break off as the worker bee tries to move away. In Texas, records have been kept for 40-plus years and in this time an average of two individuals die from regular honey bee stings each year (usually these are related to allergic reactions).
Homeowners should implement a few common sense precautions around homes. During the spring and fall when bees are in their swarming season, take a minute to make a “bee patrol” around your home to look and listen for bees. It is a good idea to look prior to starting up motorized mowers, weed choppers and/or chainsaws because the vibration from the equipment can disturb the beehives. If you notice any potential nesting sites - such as tree cavities and holes in outside walls, you should fill in these holes.
If you do discover a bee colony, do not disturb it. Locate a local pest control center. If you are attacked by honey bees, your best defense is to run away quickly. Do not swat them - this will only aggravate them. Do not try and escape by jumping into water (i.e. swimming pools or ponds), the bees will likely wait for you to resurface and sting you. If you are stung many times by any form of bee, seek immediate medical attention (especially if you are allergic or think you might be allergic to bees). The best advice is to have an emergency plan in the event you would ever need to implement it.
Bees will not only attack humans but animals as well. Check pens and/or barns carefully for beehives; bees like to build their hives in hidden locations, so look carefully and cautiously. If bees are disturbed and begin stinging, open gates and cover animals. Move animals a safe distance away. If animals are stung repeatedly or show signs of an allergic reaction, seek a veterinarian. First aid for animals is the same as for a human.
This information is not meant to alarm you. There is no need to be afraid of bees, just remember to use extreme caution when around bees. Also remember that bees are important in the agriculture world because they pollinate approximately 130 crops in the U.S. This includes fruit, nut and vegetable crops, totaling approximately 14 billion dollars annually to improved crop yield and quality.
So, take a second to think the next time you go to the store and pick up a jar of honey or reach for the number to your local pest control person.
Information in this article is courtesy of the Texas A&M University Honey Bee Information Site, http://honeybee.tamu.edu. For more information, please contact Josh Blanek at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service - somervell County Office at (254) 897-2809 or Somervell-tx@ tamu.edu.