I recently had an experience with Africanized bees worth sharing. I live in Central Texas so we certainly have Africanized colonies. In fact a man living less than a mile from me was killed 2 years ago while mowing his lawn from one of his hives that had presumably become Africanized. So, here’s how my experience started. I noticed after several inspections that my original hive (I have three) was becoming less and less productive. While the others were going strong and the queens were producing lots of bees and nice tight brood patterns, the original seemed to be low on bees for midsummer and the brood pattern was not as good as the others – it was spoty. I decided to re-queen it since the original queen was three years old. I ordered a new queen and it took about a month to get the new one. When she arrived, I went in to dispatch the old queen. I noticed at that time there were already some empty supercedure cells. After killing the old queen and waiting 48 hours, I placed the new queen cage in the hive. After 2-3 weeks I went back to check. Sure enough the queen cage was empty, but instead of finding a marked queen, I found an unmarked queen. Apparently, the hive beat me to replacing the old queen. Oh well…..
After about a month I decided to add a honey super to the hive in anticipation of a fall honey flow. Since adding a super is not very intrusive, I decided to go into the hive wearing just a veil. I smoked it as usual and as soon as I removed the top about 5-6 bees flew out and went straight up my tee shirt sleeve. There wasn’t much I could do except slowly close the hive, turn around, and walk away while taking my stings. I didn’t want to crush them or seem to panic fearing that would trigger a bigger problem. Yes, that kind of sucked but I attributed it to a freak occurrence. Up until then, my hives had always been very gentle.
Two weeks later I was driving my mower past my hives. The suspect hive behaved differently than the others and in a way I had never seen before. A group of maybe 100 bees came out and watched me. As I passed by, they actually moved as a single mass around the hive and again 5-6 flew to me. This time they landed on my leg and all stung me. I had now been stung more than the prior 3 years combined. Later, I was walking a few hundred feet from the hive and was met by two bees that promptly stung me. At that point, I decided the queen had to go. I was not going to put up with a hive that hot, so I ordered another queen. This time it took 3 weeks to get a new one. When she arrived I put on my bee suit and went in to find the queen to be replaced. That sort of operation is pretty invasive and I was met with hundreds of bees “attacking” me. For the first time, I was literally stung through my leather bee gloves. They located any breech in my bee suit, particularly where the suit legs stopped and I had about a ½” gap where my socks were. Yep, they got me there. I managed to locate the queen and felt no remorse at all when I killed her. After I reassembled the hive, the bees were still “attacking” me. I have no doubt I would have been killed without a suit on. The attack went on for about an hour even after I walked ¼ mile from the hive. They finally left me alone and I was able to go back to the house.
The next day I went back to install the new queen. This time I wore double gloves and used duct tape to seal all the interface points between the suit and my shoes and gloves. I didn’t even make it within a hundred feet of the hive before they were on me. I got to the hive and started moving things around so I could get the queen cage in. The process was brutal. Thousands of bees flying into my hood trying to get through, many landing on my gloves and trying to sting me, and others looking for a way into my suit. I got the new queen in and reassembled the hive. Again, the bees stayed with me for over an hour even when I went ½ mile away to the very back pasture. Each time I tried to return home, I was met with bees who wanted to get to me. After an hour or so I was able to return.
My house is about 200 yards from my hives. Now, I had bees coming up to the house and being aggressive. Over the next few weeks we were expecting a lot of visitors, including some children. That’s when I made the decision to get rid of the hive….I just can’t have a hive that dangerous around when there are kids who could be attacked. I would like to have waited for the new queen to take hold and have the bee population turn over (a couple months), but it just wasn’t possible, so I made the sad decision to destroy the hive.
There are a number of ways to kill a hive. Apparently some chemicals work quickly and can subdue the hive rapidly. I also read that you could sprinkle Boarax on the hive entrance and the bees would bring it in and poison all the others. I didn’t want to use a method like this. First, I have adjacent hives. I didn’t want to risk harming the others in any way. Second, I put a lot of work into constructing the hives. I wanted a method where I could reuse the wood ware. After consulting the internet, here’s how I did it. I used a new 2 gallon garden sprayer. I used a new one to avoid any chemical residue. I filled it with hot water and added half a bottle of dishwashing detergent (about 16 oz). I then suited up – extra good with double gloves, duct tape, and boots. I brought my hive tool and the rest of the dishwashing soap, a bucket, and that was about it. As before I was met aggressively before getting to the hive. I first sprayed in through the entrance, trying to contain bees that might exit. Next I opened the top and went to work. Talk about getting attacked. I was covered in bees but no stings came through. I worked my way down through the hive. I sprayed into the brood box for a considerable time and then started removing frames and spraying each individually. I continue to alternate between spraying down into the brood box and each frame I was holding. I also brought some trash bags and would place each frame in a trash bag when done. After a while, my sprayer ran out of water and detergent. I made my way over to a pond and refilled the sprayer with pond water and the rest of the detergent and went back to work. In the end, I cleared a honey super and two brood boxes. There were still many (thousands?) of bees that hadn’t been killed. For the next several hours many of them stayed on me trying to get through my bee suit. I Again, I walked as far away from them as I could…maybe ½ mile out to our furthest pasture and hung out there. I didn’t want to go near the house, fearing they’d stay around there. After several hours and many attempts to walk back I finally made my way back to the house. I ducked into the garage, took off my bee suit, got in my truck and left. I was gone about 5 days before going back.
When I returned I was very cautious. I put on a bee suit and walked around the pasture, progressively getting closer to my 2 remaining hives. I didn’t encounter any problems at all. I’ve since done hive inspections on the remaining hives a couple times. The queens are intact and the bees are back to being their gentle selves. So what did I learn or would do differently?
- First, I absolutely stand by my decision. I hated destroying a hive for many reasons, but it had to be done. They were a major threat to myself, my family, friends, neighbors, livestock, etc. In the same situation, I’d do it again.
- I would have re-queened after 2 years instead of waiting three (like I should have). That might have stopped the whole issue to begin with.
- I will take action the first time I see a queen that doesn’t belong there. If I had killed the unknown queen and replaced her with a good one earlier, perhaps I could have bypassed the situation.
- I would have brought more soap. I went through about 4 gallons of soapy water but could have used another sprayer full.
- I mentioned bringing trash bags. All I had were the small kitchen size bags. When you’re in the midst of spraying soapy water, covered with bees, and with two layers of gloves on, it is difficult to open these bags – and you’ll need more than you think. If I were doing it over, I would use the biggest contractor size bags I could find.
- I’m still not sure about this one….I intentionally went down to the ranch alone to do this job. I didn’t want anyone around who might get hurt. As I was being swarmed, it really hit me how deadly this situation could have been. If there had been a problem with my bee suit, things could have become very bad. At a minimum someone there might have called 911.
- I would continue to double glove, duct tape entry areas, and I also wore jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a hat inside my suit just to add more barrier,
- As I was preparing, I did a little research on what to do if attacked by a swarm. I had considered running to a nearby tank and jumping in….turns out this would be a terrible plan. Unless you can hold your breath for a very long time, you will get stung every time you come up for air. Seems like a tough decision: get stung to death or drown – hmm. I’m convinced the best thing to do is slowly move away and don’t swat at the bees if possible. If it gets really bad, then run and get inside as fast as possible.
I hope my experience helps ….and I hope I never have to do this again.