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Saturday, July 04th, 2009 | Author:

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