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Hanger Park bee attack prompts basic advice: Do Not Disturb

By: P.J. Standlee

March 8, 2008   

Rainy weather and warm temperatures mean the early arousal of local flowers and fauna, which may be one of the reasons a swarm of bees attacked a man and his wife at Hanger Park near Knox and south Rural roads in Tempe.

A Parks and Recreation Department employee observed the incident and called 911.

According to Tempe Parks and Recreation Deputy Manager Sam Thompson, African Honey Bees, the variety most commonly known as killer bees, have been in Arizona since 1993 but are rarely seen except during this time of the year when the pollination of flowers causes them to migrate.

“This is the first incident that we’ve heard about,” said Thompson.

“In the spring, we’ll get one or two calls from sightings because the flowers attract bees.”

The attack occurred while the couple were walking their dog, evidently a result of the bees having been disturbed by machinery in the area.

The man, who was stung approximately 100 times, was hospitalized with serious injuries; the woman’s injuries were said to be minor.

While there is no official way to monitor bees’ activities, Park and Recreation employees watch for bee hives while servicing the parks.

Nikki Ripley, public information officer for the city of Tempe, said the city also depends on citizens to be vigilant for bee hives or swarms that might prove dangerous.

When a dangerous hive is found, trained beekeepers remove the queen bee to an environment that’s safer for both bees and humans. Removing the queen effectively dissipates the bee swarm, say officials.

Mike Reichling, public information officer for the Tempe Fire Department, said that unless provoked or aroused by disturbances from heavy equipment such as lawn mowers, African Honey Bees, which have heavily cross-bred with the more common European Honey Bee, will usually stay to themselves.

“Cutting the grass with a lawnmower will agitate them, or even someone swatting at them, but walking by the nest won’t—unless you’ve really agitate them,” Reichling said.

In the case of the couple at Hanger Park, Reichling said, it might have been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Because African Honey Bees in particular are highly mobile and move from to place to place depending on resources, it’s difficult to monitor their movement.

Reichling recomends keeping an eye out for bees coming in and out of buildings or around flowers, and not to disturb them. Also, African Honey Bees tend to build their hives closer to the ground than European bees.

While bee attacks are rare, they can be serious depending upon a person’s reaction to bee stings.

Because Africanized bees will pursue a target for up to half a mile, experts suggest seeking shelter in a vehicle or building and covering your head; avoid wearing strong perfumes or aftershaves that might attract bees.

In the case that a nest is found, both Reichling and Thompson suggest calling a professional bee keeper in the yellow pages to remove the bees.

However, bees play an important part in nature by pollinating flowers and plants. Learning more about bee behavior can reduce the risk of getting attacked and allow the bees to go about their important business.

“Bees are a part of nature and the environment, and if we leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone. Be aware that they are there and you do your thing and they’ll do their thing,” Reichland said.


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