October is bee season in South Africa

Thousands of South African homes may be invaded by bees seeking new abodes this month until February.

With it, a substantial increase in bee stings, attacks on people and pets and unwelcome guests conferencing in water meters, nooks, crannies and trees can be expected.

It’s bee season. Millions of honeybees hit the proverbial road and navigate suburban gardens across the country as hive populations outgrow their environment and new Queen Bees hatch, seeking out fresh kingdoms as summer claws its way past winter.

East Rand based beekeeper Danie Putter said that it is entirely natural for the insects to begin seeking out new homes at this time of year and warned that bee attacks could be deadly when aggravated.

When bees invade your property, call an expert beekeeper. It’s the safest way to remove them, for both people and insect. Remedies like spraying certain home cleaning agents on hives or at them only hurt the bees, said Putter, and creates aggression.

In South Africa, bee stings are most commonly caused by the Cape Honeybee and the East African Lowland Honeybee, both notoriously more aggressive species than their relatively passive, comparatively speaking, European cousin. Honeybees are a protected species in South Africa.

While somewhat aged statistics suggest that mortality from bee stings is quite rare, 109 deaths were logged in the decade between 2001 and 2011, online sources suggest that the incidence could be much higher and cites the impact of underreporting as a possible gap in the numbers.

Putter said that bees respond to external stimuli and man made interference such as high intensity vibrations or even blocking the bee’s navigation path could solicit aggression.

He noted that last year a relatively passive hive attacked and killed an elderly man who was mowing the lawn with a weed-eater.

Putter said: “The vibration of the noise and the smell of the petrol fumes aggravated the insects and incited aggression”.

He said that when he later removed the hive, it was one of the most passive collectives he had encountered.

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Freshly cut grass, said Putter, can also be a major annoyance to the class of buzz. When lawns are mowed, he said, the cut grass changes its odour and sends a negative signal to a buzzing swarm.

He said: “Imagine feeling that your food source is being interfered with. That’s what you are smelling, and in addition fuel fumes and human movement looks and feels and smells like a threat”.

Loud music and the conglomeration of people may be to blame for a sudden spike in bee stings in Bardene, Ekurhuleni.

Residents’ social groups have reported an increase in bee aggression after a major music event in the area last week. Putter said that large events close to a hive may irritate the insects with constant thumping of beats and added to that, a mass of people who also emit vibrations that could cause discomfort to bees.  

Putter also added that when bees approach, for example when you might be enjoying the outdoors and a bee is zinging around your head; do not swipe it away.

He said: “Bees are also curious, and when they buzz around you, they are simply being curious. Instead of swatting at them, simply be still and the bee will eventually satisfy its curiosity”.

Well over 50 crops in South Africa are totally reliant on pollination by Honey Bees. These include pears, citrus and other fruit that earn the country billions of rand in export revenue.

Beyond the commercial value of bees, whether to pollinate crops, produce honey or wax, the insects also play a critical role in the environment.

Entire ecosystems are dependent on bees pollinating flowers, plants and wild fruit. Humanity’s well-being depends on these ecosystems. In 2018 more than a million bees were killed in the Western Cape after the incorrect use of pesticide caused an insect genocide.

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