Bees with an Attitude
by Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, ARM
"Killer Bees." If the words conjure up an image of the late John Belushi in a yellow and black stripped suit and waving antennae, think again. Since the late 1950s, this aggressive strain that consists of a cross between European and African bees has been moving slowly our way from South America.
How real is the threat to property owners, managers, and our residents and tenants? Real enough, experts say. More than 1,000 killer bee incidents were reported in Mexico over a five-year period (1986-1991). And because swarms of bees have been sighted in the southwestern United States, it's time to becomes more familiar with this new breed of honey bee and to know how to protect our residents.
First, a few basic facts. Africanized bees and European honeybees have the same size and appearance and carry the same type of venom. And both have the same tendency to protect their nests by stinging intruders they see as threatening.
What sets these cross-bred bees apart is the aggressiveness with which they respond to threats. While reports have greatly exaggerated the bees' "killer" reputation, it is true they have a stinging response 10 times greater that the domestic bee. Killer bees can detect a threat as far as 100 feet away and have been known to pursue an enemy for one-quarter mile. And when a hive is disturbed by a beekeeper or other intruder, the colonies remain defensive and antagonistic for a longer stretch of time than their domestic counterparts.
What's behind this aggressive behavior? The killer bee is accustomed to defending its hive against wild animals and predatory human beings, as opposed to European bees which have become generally more docile after centuries of being handled by beekeepers. Only through a massive organized show of force have killer bees been able to maintain their place in the natural scheme of things.
Unfortunately, the property owner or tenant has no easy way to detect the different between the two types of honey bees. Samples must be collected and processed in a laboratory for positive identification (not a practice recommended for the general public). Anyone coming in contact with a swarm of bees should automatically assume that they are Africanized bees and take all necessary precautions.
Here are some tips to ensure that you don't have a bee (or other insect) problem to worry about in the first place. Keep areas surrounding property as clean as you can. Remove or prevent access to food and water that may attract a swarm of bees looking to nest. Bees and other insect pests are particularly drawn to anything that offers a source of sugar or water (soda cans, ripe fruit, water dishes). Keep all common areas free of such items.
Domestic honey bees and killer bees like to construct their nests within a wall cavity. You can "bee-proof" your properties by checking common entryways such as hoes in the wall where pipes or electric entryways enter the structure. Other entryways worth inspecting include air ducts, HVAC ventilation areas, cracks at window framing, knot holes in wood siding, and cracks where wood and brick structures come together. In most cases, filling any openings larger than one-eight-inch in a wall with caulking, steel wool, or small gauge mesh will deny entry.
Install fine screens (one-eight-inch hardware cloth) over the tops of rain spouts, vents, and openings in water meter or utility boxes. Wire screen will deny access to bees without blocking air flow.
How do you know if you already have a colony inside your structure? It's not always easy to tell. Occasionally the nest located far enough inside a wall void so that you cannot immediately spot tits presence. Often noise and temperature will give away the nest's location. Try tapping on the wall at night listening for the area of loudest buzzing sounds. And because bees like to keep the center of their nest at about 92 degrees Fahrenheit, you will likely be able to touch the wall and feel a warm area.
In the vast majority of cases, the presence of a hive indicates a domestic honey bee invasion. But especially in those parts of the country where the Killer bee has been sighted (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and now in isolated parts of Southern California), the property owner is strongly advised to seek the assistance of professional exterminators. Left in place, the wax and honey from a hive may attract scavengers such as mice. In addition, in warm environments, honey and wax will melt and stain the walls and may emit a foul odor.
In addition to protecting your buildings ad residents, you will ensure the safety of your landscape maintenance employees. Landscape and maintenance gardeners should do a thorough inspection of the property before starting up lawn mowers, weed-whackers, and other motorized equipment. Likewise, workers entering an area that has been undisturbed for a period - such as a tool shed - should take time to check for possible nesting areas.
Always require maintenance workers to wear protective clothing: gloves, work boots, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts. Instruct workers to avoid dark colors, which bees find more threatening. And have workers carry a bee-sting kit.
Another rule-of-thumb is to check the work area for the shortest, most direct route to shelter. Once disturbed, an established bee colony will respond by attacking anything within its territory. In this situation you want to retreat to an enclosed area as quickly as possible. Do not try to trick the attacking bees by playing dead or hiding in the bushes. They will continue to attack as long as you are in their territory.
If you are attacked, the first thing to do is to cover your eyes, mouth, ears, and nose. Bees are attracted to these dark colors first.
Once the attack is over, remove any stingers by scraping them out at an opposite angle with your fingernail, a pocket knife, or the edge of a credit card. Do not try to pull the stinger straight out; doing so will cause more venom to squeeze into your body.
Most people who are not allergic to bee stings can be stung up to 15 times without the need for medical attention. But don't sit there trying to calculate the number of stings you received; in any serious attack situation, get help from a doctor.
The presence of honey bees and similar nesting insects in and around property structures has always been a nuisance for both owners and tenants. With the potential arrival of the Africanized honey bee, the nuisance has become considerably more serious. Owners and managers have a greater responsibility than ever to take precautions and to maintain property inspections.
Entomologists and pest-control experts say that the killer bee is most likely here to stay. On the other hand, they agree that, with some education and the support of local beekeeping efforts, we can learn to co-exist with our new buzzing neighbors.
From the Journal of Property
Management, November/December 1995, p. 14
Robert Griswold and the Real Estate Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and state fair housing laws. As a reminder to all owners and managers of real estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference, limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex, physical disability, or familial status, or intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local fair housing laws may also apply. Be sure to inform all persons that all dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.
Revised and Updated - Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM,
PCAM, GRI, ARM
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