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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2004

Swarming bees not 'killer' type

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Q. I was driving near Kapa'a Quarry Road recently when I came across a huge swarm of bees. They were very dense, and it seemed like there were thousands of them. A few got in my car before I could close the windows, but they didn't bother me. Were these those dangerous Africanized bees from the Mainland

— Barry Power, Hawai'i Kai.

A. Hawai'i doesn't have Africanized bees.

However, bees in hives in the wild in Hawai'i tend to be more aggressive than the ones most beekeepers keep. That's because most beekeepers replace the queens in aggressive hives with varieties that are more docile, said Mohsen Ramadan, an entomologist with the state Department of Agriculture.

Most likely what you ran into was an old queen leaving the hive in a swarm with a large group of followers, preparing to establish a new hive.

This is how bees establish new colonies, said Dennis Morihiro, a beekeeper who operates Tropical Apiary Products of Maui. When an old queen begins to weaken, the bees in her hive start the specialized process of creating new queens. Before the new queens hatch, the old queen takes off. "Scout bees go out to find a place to nest," Morihiro said.

In such a swarm, the bees tend to be quite docile, he said. Generally, before they leave the hive, they load up on as much honey as they can carry, so they're flying heavy. Plus, they have left their hive and don't yet have a new one, so they don't have a home to protect.

"You can normally stand quietly in the middle of a swarm, and they just pass by. But you can't start slapping them or waving your arms. Then they see you as a threat, and they'll come after you," Morihiro said.

There are a couple of other circumstances that could create a swarm of bees. If a person or animal has attacked a hive, or begun poking at it, bees may leave en masse, and under these circumstances they may be aggressive, since they correctly perceive a threat.

A hive also can be disturbed by natural events, such as a tree falling and hitting it.

If you find yourself near a dense swarm of bees, the best advice is to stand still, or very calmly and slowly walk away, Morihiro said.

"Don't swat at the bees," he said.

If you have a question or concern about the Hawaiian environment, drop a note to Jan TenBruggencate at P.O. Box 524, Lihu'e, HI 96766 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com, or call (808) 245-3074.