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Bee swarms plague station

By Lance Cpl. Michael Nease | | March 25, 2004

Marines may have noticed the pleasant smell of citrus blossoms as harvest season begins in the orchards around the station. Marines aren't the only ones to notice that smell.

Millions of bees depend on those orchards to survive, and the orchards depend on the bees to pollinate the crop, but stray swarms of bees put Marines, their families and employees of the station in danger every year.

Last year, over 90 bee swarms were reported on station, and six have been reported already this year as of March 17. Two of these were in the tails of AV-8B Harriers, and others were scattered in trees and buildings across the station, said Larry Reyelts, the station's pest control coordinator.

"We've had them in every place imaginable," said Reyelts. "We've had them in the cockpits of airplanes. They get in the gear boxes on the runway, fencelines -- pretty much any place imaginable."

Bee swarms, which could contain up to 10,000 bees, follow their queen wherever she goes and land wherever she decides to rest, said Reyelts.

The swarms can be very dangerous if they are disturbed, especially to people who are allergic, said Mike Barry, a paramedic with the station fire department.

"If you get stung, you could just have a generalized swelling and irritation, and that's no medical emergency," said Barry. "But just because you've never been allergic in the past doesn't mean the next time you get stung you won't be allergic."

The onslaught of an allergic reaction could be gradual or fast. People who know they are allergic to bees need to have an epinephrine pin with them at all times. Other people should be aware of the symptoms of an allergic reaction, which are hives, itching, redness of the face and most importantly, trouble breathing, said Barry.

"All bee swarms are treated as an emergency," said Patrick Bailey, station assistant fire chief. "We have paramedics in house so if someone is stung, we can start treatment right away. That's why we're the first people notified."

If you discover a swarm of bees, call 911 immediately and keep yourself and others away from them, said Bailey.

"Do not disturb the bees," Bailey warned. "Once you disturb them, they will attack. Even if they are regular honey bees, they will normally attack."

There are two types of bees in the Yuma area -- European honey bees and Africanized bees. The bees native to this continent didn't produce much honey, so settlers from Europe brought in European bees, which produce more honey.

Later, settlers in South America brought over African bees, which are more aggressive, but produce even more honey. These Africanized bees have since made their way up into the states, said Barry.

"The big problem with Africanized bees is that they're very aggressive," said Reyelts. "As much as 40 percent of the hive might come after you.

"As far as safety goes, the best thing to do is just stay away from them," he continued. "If you do get into them, get away quick because you can't tell if they're European or Africanized bees. They look the same."

Reyelts tries not to kill the bees, but sometimes there is no other solution. If he can save them, he'll take them back out to the orchards and release them.

When bees are discovered on station, the first thing emergency services does is rope off the area with caution tape. Often the bees will simply be resting and not intending to establish a hive.  These bees will typically leave after a couple of hours, said Bailey.

If they don't leave on their own, the best time to remove the bees is at night when the bees are less active and all together, said Reyelts

"Most of the time it's easier to handle these swarms at night because they're all in at that point," said Reyelts. "If you take a swarm during the day, what happens is you've got the scouts out and some of the workers - probably a third of the hive is out. If you remove the swarm, the other bees will come back, find their queen gone, and become really erratic and dangerous."

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