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Beekeeper: No need to kill bees for the Padres

Removing bees live is less dangerous than trying to kill them, a professional beekeeper writes.

San Diego: An unidentified usher tries to move a swarm of bees as they cover a chair in left field during the ninth inning of a baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Houston Astros, Thursday, July 2, 2009, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

An unidentified usher tries to move a swarm of bees as they cover a chair in left field during the ninth inning of the Padres game on Thursday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A honey bee swarm delayed an Astros-Padres’ baseball game for 52 minutes on Thursday, while a “beekeeper” was called to exterminate them.

I was appalled that a swarm of bees was destroyed in front of thousands of baseball fans! How many more people, probably millions, that saw the incident on national TV now have the message that it is necessary or advisable to kill a swarm of bees this way?

I was disgusted and horrified. I remove swarms of honey bees alive every day. Beekeepers do not exterminate bees!

Something had to be done quickly at Petco Park of course. But exterminating them took as long as it would to collect them, and stirred the remaining bees into a frenzy. I contend that far from being the safe option, this was a risky one.

Benign swarm

Bees in a swarm are at their most benign. When a colony becomes too crowded, the workers create a new queen. Just before the new queen hatches, the old queen leaves the hive with a large proportion of the workers, headed for a new location. This is how new bee hives are created.

Before they depart the hive, the bees fill up with honey to sustain them until they can start foraging again. They’re feeling pretty good, just as you do after a good meal.

They have no hive to defend so are very unlikely to sting anyone. In fact, since they are full of honey, it’s physically difficult for them to sting.

This cluster of bees is called a swarm. They collect somewhere temporarily while the scout bees look for a permanent new location. This is what we saw at Petco Park on Thursday.

Urban myth of killer bees

I frequently collect swarms without any protective clothing. It shouldn’t be necessary.

In more than 20 years of keeping bees, I have collected hundreds of swarms. I have never come across a credible story of anyone being attacked by a swarm of bees. I believe it is an urban myth.

San Diego: sdnn-opinion6

Bees under threat

Honey bees are under a serious threat at the moment. Colonies have been mysteriously dying, not only in the U.S., but across most of Europe. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) leaves the hive completely devoid of bees.

The cause is not known but it is very worrying. Bees account for much of the fresh food we eat by way of pollination.

San Diego: A swarm of bees can be removed live. (Photo courtesy Geoff Kipps-Bolton)

A swarm of bees can be removed live. (Photo courtesy Geoff Kipps-Bolton)

Farmers, not known for throwing money about, spend billions of dollars annually to rent hives of bees from commercial beekeepers to pollinate crops.

Crops depend on honey bees

Who hasn’t heard that bees are in trouble? We need honey bees. It has been said that one third of all food grown depends on honey bees for pollination. What kind of message does killing 20,000 bees on national television send to the public?

I know people were frightened. But if they had called a true beekeeper, not an exterminator, the bees would have been removed humanely, alive, without the risk of those stray bees, which remained after the exterminator sprayed them.

In some parts of the world it is illegal to exterminate bees unless a beekeeper has inspected the situation and been unable to remove them alive. This should be the case in the United States.

Padres’ response

Richard Andersen, Executive VP, Ballpark Management & General Manager of PETCO Park, called me in response to an email I sent. He was very keen to get the facts and I’m sure in future they will try to take the socially responsible action. The Padres won an award.

Tom Garfinkel quipped that Luke Yoder, Padres’ director of field and landscape maintenance, has a beekeeper on speed-dial. I say next time, call a professional beekeeper to do the right thing!

There is a network of true beekeepers who would respond straightaway in circumstances like these.

Geoff Kipps-Bolton is owner of San Diego Bees and www.bees-on-the-net.com.

READER COMMENTScomment rules | moderation | privacy

Comment by: Elizabeth Scarbrough Posted: July 3, 2009, 4:47 pm

I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for this very informative article - everyone needs to take a more active role in managing our planet’s resources. I applaud Mr. Kipps-Bolton for speaking up and providing desperately needed education on this important subject. Maybe next time the Padres (and other responsible organizations) will call him first!

Comment by: Wendell Liljedahl Posted: July 3, 2009, 5:37 pm

Kudos Mr. Kipps-Bolton!
We are all too quick to kill whatever threatens to disrupt our sporting events. I, for one, am all for keeping the game moving along. But, anyone who’s been caught standing between a sports fan and the action on the field can sympathize with the bees.
The larger impact on this reader, however, is that our national past time ought to take more responsibility for modeling an appropriate response to a growing problem. Our ecologically challenged friends (the bees in this case) could use a little more compassion, and some carefully crafted media attention from a sport that taught most of us what it means to be a contributor, and a leader. It’s disturbing that the Padres didn’t have a system in place for a more appropriate response, but that pales in comparison to the media’s flippant coverage of the event. My hat’s off to the San Diego News Network for giving this story the space that it deserves. You could teach ESPN a lesson in resposibility, if they’re listening.
I hope this tragic incident will serve to raise awareness of our relationship to bees, and foster some respect for our little winged friends.

Comment by: Keeper Posted: July 3, 2009, 6:09 pm

Geoff, I agree it is outrageous. The only news here is that there were several honey bees murdered in front of the public. They did not hire a beekeeper rather a bee-killer. There is a big difference in what took place at the ballpark. The bees could have been removed without any harming. There are beekeepers who would have taken the bees to a bee friendly environment at the same cost of extermination. Shame on the Padres organization for destroying hard working bees whose pollination is what puts food on our plate.

Comment by: Vanessa Posted: July 3, 2009, 7:17 pm

I watched that in HORROR, mouth open, as they called out an exterminator dressed in a bee suit. If they had called a real beekeeper, he’d have gotten them out of there quickly and happily. What a shame and a wasted opportunity to show how to co-exist with our little pollinating friends! It made me sick to watch how they bungled that situation.

Comment by: Jay Posted: July 3, 2009, 7:52 pm

I completely agree with you, I was appaled that the “beekeeper” actually killed the bees. When I initially saw the story on sportcenter, I thought the guy was spraying them with water. My daughter (20 months) has a bee book that says bees cannot fly when their wings are wet. Unfortunately, I later discovered that they were killed. Bees are very beneficial, if not necessary, for so many aspects of human life! Why kill them on national television and in the process, teach millions of viewer to act the same way?!?!?

Comment by: Larry Powell Posted: July 3, 2009, 9:49 pm

This was an inane solution to a problem that could have been easily solved with no injuries.
And, it seems that the stadium people didn’t call a beekeeper, they called a bee killer.
Is there an official Petco Stadium statement?
And has anybody identified the guy with the apparenlty deadly spraycans?

Comment by: Tom konevecki Posted: July 3, 2009, 10:57 pm

I am a beekeeper in Canada and I can tell you that bees will swarm when they are getting too big in Population for their hive. So I suspect that they must be a hive nearby in the immediate area as bees usually do not travel more than three miles in order to build a new colony.

Comment by: David Posted: July 3, 2009, 11:35 pm

What a dispicable reaction to a swarm of declining bees! That was no beekeeper but the bee terminator! That swarm could of been expertly rescued & pollinating some of our multitude of crops in California. Who ever called him should be fined & a real beekeeper put on the speed dial.

Comment by: Fred Posted: July 4, 2009, 5:45 am

I think what you folks here have done is give the average fan (and the Padres ownership) an education and I thank you for that. I fully understand the Padres ignorant response. You’ve got a stadium half full of fans and a swarm of bees that aren’t about to leave and a major league nationally braodcast ballgame going on. My first thought would be “get rid of the bees” as soon as possible which I would assume means exteminating them before someone gets seriously hurt, and all the embarassment and LIABILITY that might come with that. I don’t know that a swarm of bees don’t “attack” when threatened with removal. Imagine being the owner and they swarm one of those superstar ballplayers? Again I was ignorant, but I understand their response. Indeed, get a real beekeeper on speedial!

Comment by: Saturday Links, Thoughts and Other Fun-ness Posted: July 4, 2009, 9:34 am

[...] Save the bees! [...]

Comment by: Chick Collins Posted: July 4, 2009, 10:01 am

I watched this mess, from Texas, and was totally put out. It doesn’t get much easier than that swarm, to remove them safely. I don’t know who that yo-yo was taht came out there with the spray bombs, but he was no bee keeper. Plus, he gave an example of how others might try to rid their ignorance, of an unwanted swarm. I don’t know what kind of chemical he had in those aerosol cans, but it was quite lethal to the bees. This stuff is not available to the public. I can just imagine some home owner attempting to exterminate an established colony, like that, and getting stung to smithereens. Great job Padres. You took care of that situation, as well as you played the Astros.

Comment by: Richard Martyniak Posted: July 4, 2009, 3:11 pm

One important note that hasn’t been mentioned, is that San Diego is now home to Africanized Honey Bees, the so-called “killer bees”. It’s likely that a high proportion of the feral population of honey bees in San Diego are now Africanized. Africanized honey bees really have no place in our hive boxes, as they are more defensive, swarm more frequently, and generally put away less honey. While an AHB swarm may not be ‘mean’, as they build a colony, they become more defensive. It’s impossible for anyone to visually ID by the way.

It sounds like the eradication was done improperly, but i wouldn’t slam all eradications done in AHB areas. We perform them in a responsible manner, minimizing sting risk and liablility. We also perform some live removals, but it really does increase our exposure to a sting incident, thus we are very careful.

Comment by: jerry norton Posted: July 4, 2009, 4:01 pm

if i catch you destroying bees for no good reason but a sporting reason.then you deserve a good slap.call someone who can deal with the situation,dam your sport.save the bees.
isle of man.
wake up dopey

Comment by: Virginia Posted: July 5, 2009, 6:21 am

It was a sad show of ignorance of the importance of bees in our society.

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