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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

That Ain't Spring You Hear Buzzing in the Air

This is the perfect time of year. In Phoenix, spring isn’t recognized by the first inkling of sunshine and green shoots on the ground. Instead, it's marked by the last remnant of perfect weather before we retreat to our houses and workplaces in futile attempts to avoid the blistering summer sun.

No complaints here, mind you. I take the summer heat as part and parcel with the rest of the year in Phoenix, which is mostly, as described above, perfect. So it routinely gets to 110 degrees for three months straight. As I’ve said in this blog before, you don’t have to shovel sunshine.

Just this week, I returned from a trip to La Paz County and I was greeted by the heady scent of orange blossoms, that sweet smell that should be bottled and sold as a tonic for the blues. The beautiful thing about the orange scent is that you don’t even have to be within sight of any citrus trees. That particular bouquet will find you.

We in Phoenix and other temperate parts of Arizona are approaching that two-week-long period of time twice a year where we can open windows at night without shivering. I’m not about to recommend you leave your windows open overnight – I don’t – because I don’t want to be responsible for someone slipping into your house at 3 a.m. by finding an unsecured opening. If you decide to take advantage of the perfect nighttime temps when they do arrive, check out what my friends at the Phoenix Police Department have created and see if their advice is useful for you too.

One thing those secure locks in the link above can’t protect you from is bee attacks. Strictly speaking, closed doors can protect you from bees, but if they ever develop opposable thumbs and learn how to pick locks, well, this blog entry will take on a more panicked air, because I’ll be writing it while running at a full sprint.

I appreciate bees – well, the happy bees – and their role in the ecosystem is not to be dismissed. It’s the Africanized honey bees, sometimes called “killer bees,” that give the other bees a bad name.

There’s little that’s more distressing than hearing about people, especially kids, talking a walk or playing in their front yard who inadvertently ticked off some bees. Regular ol’ bees can swarm like Africanized bees, but apparently, it’s not hard to annoy the Africanized bees. And they hold a grudge longer than plain bees.

And wouldn’t you know it, but citrus blossom scents and warm weather have the same effect on bees as they do on lots of us: They cause them to be more active and maybe a pinch fussy about people who appear to threaten their home. I guess that part about being fussy can apply year-round.

Our colleagues with Yuma Fire Department also reported they recently responded to a call for bee swarms. They rightly point out that deaths from bee stings are rare but people who are allergic to bee stings are particularly at risk. They provided some handy tips on what to do if you find yourself the unwelcome target of a swarm of bees:

Bees can swarm into a location and stay for only a couple of hours, or make it their new home. Not all bees are “killer bees” but people do need to be cautious when outdoors hiking, hunting, fishing, biking, etc. They won’t form a large swarm and “hunt” for you, but will defend their hives aggressively.

  • If you are attacked, run away quickly until you reach shelter (a vehicle or building). Do not try to stand still in an attempt to fool the bees, for the bees won’t be impressed. Do not try to fight the bees. They have the advantage of numbers, and the gift of flight.
  • Although it may be tempting, do not jump into water (especially canals, which could be more dangerous than the bees!) The bees will wait for you to come up for air.
  • Do not swat at bees or flail your arms.
  • Do wear light-colored clothing when out and about.
  • Check your house and yard once a month and fill cracks and crevices in walls.
  • Remove piles of junk from your yard.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and keep escape routes in mind.
  • If tethering or penning a pet or livestock, inspect areas for signs of colonies.
  • Watch for warning signs, like bees flying back and forth in a straight line, flying at your face, buzzing your head, etc.
  • Do not disturb bee colonies and keep away from swarms.

That last bit can’t be overstated. It seems like lots of bee attacks are instigated by someone poking a stick at a hive or trying to seduce the bees with smoke or fire. In my research on this topic, local fire departments will typically respond to calls of injuries, bee attacks or otherwise, but if you find a hive or sense a swarm, contact a beekeeper or exterminator.

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