Originally Published: April 12, 2015 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - As children, most people heard that if you "leave bees alone, they'll leave you alone."
That's easier said than done when the bees have decided to swarm on your trees or house, and this is the time of year they do it.
Justin Zych is getting more calls than usual about swarms.
"These days, my phone is blowing up," the bee-removal expert said. "There are bee swarms all over the tri-city area."
Zych attributes the call volume to a relatively wet, late winter, with increased flowering-plant production.
"As a result, (the bees) have been able to multiply at a faster rate," he said, "and what happens is...half (of a colony) and their queen vacate the colony" looking for a new home. They gather in a convenient spot while scouts search for a place to build a new hive, and that's what people see when they spot a swarm.
A concerned homeowner's first call when confronted with a swarm is often to the fire department, and, a Central Yavapai Fire District spokesman said, that's all right, but callers need to understand what happens next.
"We go there and find out where the bees are," Division Chief Rick Chase said, "and, if the bees are not threatening anybody...we will not do anything with them."
Fire dispatchers can give the caller phone numbers of beekeepers who can come and collect the bees, he said.
If the bees are threatening people or animals, "we will go ahead and foam them to remove the danger," he said, using firefighting foam from an engine. He said the fire engines also carry protective gear for the firefighters.
But spraying the bees with foam kills them.
"If we don't have to, we would rather not," Chase said. "That way, the bee population stays up."
Chase said in most cases of the bee swarm calls, "probably three-quarters of them," the fire crew determines that waiting for a beekeeper is safe and they do not spray them.
That's good, Zych said, because "the European honey bee is becoming an endangered species, due to colony collapse disorder," a mysterious syndrome defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present. No scientific cause for it has been found, according to the USDA.
Because the bees that do gather in a new spot are there just temporarily while scouts find them a new home, they'll leave on their own-sometimes, Zych said, in five minutes, sometimes in five days.
While they're "hanging out," he said, they are typically pretty docile, and if they're not attacked, they will generally keep to themselves and aren't really a threat.
Chase asked that, if homeowners see a swarm but people, pets, or livestock are not being attacked, they call their fire department's non-emergency number.
Or, he said, they could call a beekeeper, like Zych, directly. Some will come out for free; others charge for the service.
Zych said he "almost always" advises homeowners to just leave the bees and allow them to move on when they wish. "Surprisingly, they get it and understand, and unless the bees are in a high-traffic area, they'll leave them alone," he said.
"It's very infrequent that people are panicked when a swarm shows up near their home," he said, "and that's good news."
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