Herald/TJ MAXWELL - Beekeeper Stephen Gardipee removes the top of a hive Tuesday as he checks on bees at Lake Belton. -

By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

For something so small, honey bees certainly attract quite a bit of attention. They don't seem to ask for it, nor really care that their presence can cause such fear and fascination.

Standing in the parking lot of Dr. Roland Shellie's dental office in Copperas Cove, visitors can watch the bees, completely unharmed by them, as they travel across Robertson Avenue to the crepe myrtles and other plants that grow across the street.

They never turn right or left up the avenue, they always cross the street in a steady stream of coming and going from the hive they've created in the trunk of a cedar elm tree.

"I don't know why they chose this tree," said Marilu de Carvalho, the dentist's office manager.

Shellie said he waters the plants around them and they don't even seem to notice, they just keep on working.

The phrase busy as a bee is certainly no understatement. Bees work so furiously that their life expectancy is actually shortened by it. They wear their little bodies out after about six weeks working so hard, said Stephen Gardipee, a beekeeper with Lone Star Bees in Belton.

"Once they start foraging, they wear themselves out," Gardipee said.

When de Carvalho first noticed the bees at the office about seven weeks ago, she knew they couldn't stay - just in case they got upset and decided to sting someone - but she just couldn't kill them.

"Honey bees are endangered so we really wanted to save them," she said. "I don't even know if I could kill them. I don't have the heart to do it."

Moving the hive

To save the bees, de Carvalho and Shellie called in Gardipee to safely remove them from the tree and bring them to a hive at his farm in Rosebud.

Gardipee has performed about 25 to 30 bee-removal jobs since he started about two years ago, but for this one, he had to order a special bee-capturing box.

He estimated the number of bees to be about 10,000 to 12,000 strong, but he said there's no way to determine the size of the hive within the trunk.

Because these bees seem to ignore everyone, Gardipee guessed they are some strain of European bee. There are 24 races of bees in the U.S., and it's typically the Africanized bees that are aggressive. Only a DNA test can confirm the race, but Gardipee said he can make an educated guess by the mood of the hive.

To remove them, he first attached an entryway to the hive, and will give the bees about a week to get comfortable with it. Then, Gardipee plans to come back and attach the capturing box to the entry way, which will only allow bees to leave the tree, but not re-enter.

The hope is that they will move the hive into the box, including the queen.

"Once you've got the queen, you've got the hive," Gardipee said.

He said that even though this job is difficult and there's a risk it will fail, it's worth it to try and save the bees. One-third of crops are pollinated by bees, and 80 percent of those are honey bees. So if their numbers continue to fall, he said, the effects will be seen.

Overcoming fear

Steve Hoskins, an avid gardener, became interested in bees to help his plants grow, but also to help himself overcome a fear.

As a child, he was extremely allergic to bees, and every time he was stung he broke out into hives.

One day a swarm just showed up near his garden, so instead of getting rid of it, he found a beekeeper to teach him how to maintain them and overcome the fear of being stung.

"It's very relaxing working in the garden and being around the bees," Hoskins said. "I'm not climbing mountains or cliffs, but knowing what they did to me as a child, I know I can overcome fear."

He said he hopes other people can learn that honey bees are not so scary.

"A lot of people are afraid of bees, and they don't need to be. The bee has it's own habits and if you don't disturb them, they don't disturb you. You can just step back and watch them work."

Contact Rose L. Thayer at rthayer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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