• October 22, 2014

Bee removal business buzzing after fatal attack

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2013 4:30 am

The death of a Moody man who was attacked last week near his home by a swarm of Africanized bees has kept a local beekeeper busy with calls from people asking him to remove the dangerous insects.

Since offering bee removal services about a month ago, Michael Zambrano, 30, of Z’s Bees in Killeen has been getting calls and text messages day and night from area residents worried about bees.

On June 1, Larry Goodwin, 62, died after he was stung thousands of times by a swarm of Africanized bees he accidentally disturbed while mowing with a tractor.

Goodwin was the ninth person killed by Africanized bees in the U.S. since 1990, according to an entomologist at Texas A&M University.

“I have been getting calls from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” Zambrano said. “Sometimes I get 30 or 40 calls a day. People are scared.”

Andrea Wooden of Killeen said she was scared when she saw bees going in and out of vinyl siding above her garage last week.

“I read about the man who was killed by bees,” she said. “I was worried.”

When Wooden called an exterminator, he referred her to Zambrano, who came out for a look.

“Mike told me these were scouting bees looking for a place to build a hive,” she said. “He checked everything out and told me I didn’t have to worry.”

If the scouts were followed by more bees in a couple of days, Zambrano said, she should call him back.

“I have not seen any more,” she said Friday, “so I guess I am OK.”

Swarms

Not all Zambrano’s calls are that easy.

Sometimes he is called to deal with a swarm of bees — a large ball of the insects around a queen. A swarm is typically clustered on a tree branch with no hive structure.

Zambrano usually shakes the bees into a box, then transfers them to a hive frame that he adds to his apiary.

Some calls involve removal of an established hive, which has often been built into the wall of a building. Removing a hive often means sawing into a structure and cutting away the waxy honeycombs.

Zambrano uses a “bee vac,” a customized 2.5-horsepower shop vacuum that sucks the bees into a wooden box for transfer to a frame.

Z’s Bees charges $50 to remove a swarm of bees, he said. A “cut-out” hive removal starts at $200.

“Sometimes people call an exterminator or just try poisoning the bees themselves with a can of Raid,” Zambrano said. “If the beeswax is not removed, bees will come back.”

Most local exterminators have Zambrano’s number and refer bee-removal jobs to him, he said.

Equipped with a bee veil, coveralls, thick leather gloves and a smoker, Zambrano and his business partner, Bradley Ware, respond to calls from Killeen, Belton, Temple, Copperas Cove and Gatesville to remove bees.

“I have not met anyone else who is doing this in the area,” he said.

Aggressive insects

The work can be dangerous, particularly with Africanized bees, which look like the more docile European honeybee but are far more aggressive.

“Only (specialists at) Texas A&M can determine for sure if they are Africanized bees,” Zambrano said. If a large number of bees in a swarm are very aggressive, he assumes they are Africanized.

Zambrano and Ware keep the bees they capture to produce honey. The docile bees go to Zambrano’s hives in Killeen and Belton. The more aggressive bees are moved to Ware’s rural acreage along the banks of the Lampasas River.

Zambrano sells his raw, unfiltered honey at Green Avenue Farmers Market in Killeen, where he is the market manager.

His bee operation has grown in four years from one hive to 45, due in large part to the number of bees he has removed from worried property owners.

For information about bee removal, call Zambrano at (254) 368-9880 or go to agrilife.org.

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