Recent bee attacks in South Central Texas creating buzz

Due to recent bee attacks in the region, AgriLife Extension is helping educate South Central Texas residents on awareness, prevention measures. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo)

ELGIN — Recent bee attacks in Bastrop and Hays counties have revived the need to warn South Central Texas residents of thier potential danger and advise them on how to best avoid contact with bees, according to Texas AgriLife experts.

“What we really want to do is preach awareness to people in South Central Texas and other areas of the state,” said William Baxter, assistant chief inspector for the Apiary Inspection Service of Texas AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M University System.

Baxter and Rachel Bauer, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources for Bastrop County, recently met with officials in Elgin to learn about a recent bee attack which killed a resident of that city and offer their expertise on how to help prevent future incidents. Officials had reported that the individual attacked was an elderly, disabled man who was mowing his lawn at the time of the incident, and that he was stung several hundred times.

“Another person who was trying to help him was hospitalized at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin,” Bauer said. “And earlier this month, another bee attack took place in Kyle.”

Bauer noted the “common denominator” in the bee incidents was that those attacked were in the process of mowing with tractors or lawn mowers.

“We’re supporting county emergency management officials’ efforts to get the word out on bee awareness,” she said. “Although it’s been a while since any significant bee attacks have occurred in South Central Texas, the potential remains and people should be vigilant.”

While in Elgin, Baxter took samples of bee colonies and is examining them to determine if any were Africanized honeybees. However, he noted, both European and Africanized bees will attack when aggravated by vibration and noise from tractors, lawn mowers, bulldozers, chainsaws and other equipment.

“They are defending their hive and the queen, and will be aggressive,” Baxter explained. “Bees  often will attack the head and face.”

He said bee attacks can turn deadly, particularly when the elderly, the very young or disabled individuals are involved.

“The first-best defense against contact with bees is to be aware of surroundings.” Baxter said. “Take the effort to look around your home and yard prior to starting up your lawnmower or weed eater. And if you find a hive in an area where you work frequently, try to eliminate it before it gets too large.”

He suggested filling in any suspicious holes in or around the house or hollers in trees with an  expanding foam or a combination of wire mesh and cement.

“You might also consider buying a bee veil to keep in your vehicle or under your tractor seat,” he said. “They’re inexpensive and can be quickly put over a hat or cap to protect the head.”

This recent increase in bee activity in South Central Texas is not particularly unusual, said Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension program specialist in integrated pest management for Travis County.

“Bees tend to be more active around the spring and fall since temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold,” she said. “In addition, the recent rains have also likely been a factor in their increased activity.”

More information on bee safety can be found at http://honeybee.tamu.edu. Some tips from this site include:

– Listen for buzzing and look for bees entering or leaving the same area indicating a nest or swarm of bees.
– Carefully enter sheds and outbuildings where bees may nest.
– Examine work areas prior to using noisy power equipment such as lawn mowers, weed cutters, and chainsaws.
– Examine areas for bees before tying up or penning pets and livestock.
– Watch and listen for bees when outdoors.
– Teach children to be cautious around and respectful of bees.
– If you know you are allergic to bee stings check with your doctor about a sting kit.
– Seal openings greater than one-eighth inch in diameter in walls, around chimneys, masonry, plumbing, and any other openings.
– Install screens (1/8-inch hardware cloth) over rain spouts, vents, cavities in trees and fence posts, and over water meters and utility boxes.
– From spring through fall, inspect for bee activity around house and yard 1-2 times per week.
– If found, do not disturb a swarm or colony.
– Call a professional bee-removal service or pest control operator about removal.

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