Beekeepers abuzz on how to handle swarms
the daily sentinel
GRAND JUNCTION – With the Grand Valley on the brink of warmer temperatures with winds calming, residents may be more likely to spot bees swarming. Bees swarm when a new queen bee has been created and she breaks off from the hive and is surrounded by worker bees.
Instead of panicking when faced with a swarm that decides to land nearby, residents can help the bees’ plight by calling any number of local beekeepers who are more than happy to scoop up and take away the flighty pollinators.
“Please don’t kill it,” Orchard Mesa beekeeper Ray Gilbert said of finding a swarm. “Do not spray it with Raid. Leave it be, and they will land. Call somebody quickly and don’t wait two-and-a-half days.”
Twenty-four beekeepers from Loma to Delta are listed with the Colorado State University Tri-River Area Extension Office to retrieve swarms of bees.
Local pest control agencies largely have an understanding with beekeepers to refuse to kill a swarm unless a beekeeper determines the swarm cannot be captured. But even beekeepers understand that a swarm may have to be exterminated if it gets into a home. People spraying pesticides also are generally good about contacting beekeepers before spraying near hives.
Bee consultant Bob Hasse has worked with bees in the Grand Valley for the past 23 years and has an extensive history of working with bees dating five decades. Hasse recently retrieved a bee swarm from the McDonald’s at Mesa Mall. He also was called to retrieve another swarm that was resting underneath a picnic table at an RV park.
Hasse encourages residents who report swarms to keep an eye on them and call a beekeeper quickly and report accurate information. Hasse has developed a vacuum to collect bees gingerly, which he calls a Bee Vac.
Hasse once called a Montrose beekeeper to a yard in Grand Junction where a resident had reported a swarm. Hasse had not been told that the residents had already killed most of the bees by spraying them.
“When he got there two hours later there were only two hands’ worth (of bees),” Hasse lamented.
A swarm of bees is gentle, and you can literally put your hand through the humming mass, said Gary McCallister, a biology professor at Mesa State College. McCallister had three hives last year but lost one experimental hive over the winter.
Like other hobby beekeepers, McCallister started keeping bees after moving to a new part of town and realizing his garden wasn’t producing as well.
Not having enough bees to pollinate is a serious problem, he said.
“That’s every third mouthful that’s gone,” McCallister said. “You can live without bees – the world would just be a very dull, drab place.”
There’s a common misconception there is only one kind of bee – a honeybee. In fact, there are thousands of bee species, he said.
One theory about bee die-off is that bees are being managed differently in the past century than ever before in their 6 million-year history, McCallister said.
Most all of the nation’s commercial beekeepers now transport hives to Southern California to pollinate almond trees.
The theory is that with bees traveling to far-flung places, their chance to pick up and spread new parasites may increase. Other theories about the bee die-off include them coming into contact with pesticides.
Each year, Paul Limbaugh of Silt, a commercial beekeeper who runs 2,500 to 3,000 hives, estimates he loses 35 percent to 40 percent of his hives to a combination of mites and colony collapse disorder.
Other beekeepers believe that fewer bees in a hive and low food stores, combined with mites during the start of a cold winter, contributed to their die-off, as the bees like to huddle in large numbers to stay warm.
In addition, fewer people are keeping bees as new housing developments with less acreage span out into the countryside. The local bees, otherwise called feral or native bees, suffer if they catch parasites passed on from other bees, McCallister said.
“Suddenly bees are being moved around and stressed,” he said. “You have bees all the way from Michigan coming to pollinate the almond industry. There’s been a culture change, and people no longer keep bees on their land.”
Colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that has been on the rise in the United States in recent years, occurs when worker bees abandon a hive.
Bees also face assault by varrora mites and the parasite nosema.
Varrora mites feed off pupae and adult bees, growing along bee cells. The mites also hitch rides on the adult bees, which can spread the infestation. Nosema is a spore-producing protozoa that invades a bee’s gut. It spreads through bees’ feces and can infest a whole hive if the hive is not cleaned.
Keeping bees has benefits such as providing honey and pollinating the neighborhood, McCallister said. He noticed an increased yield from his garden after keeping bees.
“I really encourage backyard beekeepers,” he said. “It doesn’t take too much time. It helps the rest of us and helps the environment. It helps the bees.”
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