County Pulse Blog: Bees create a stir in neighborhood

kcarlson@modbee.comApril 17, 2013 

— The buzz on Rosemont Avenue in south Modesto last week was not about the Modesto Nuts’ early season record, but was an actual swarm of bees.

“It looked like a tornado,” said Danita Keys, who watched from a window as the bees swarmed over her front yard, off Tuolumne Boulevard not far from John Thurman Field. She kept her son and the dog inside. Her pet kept ringing the bell on the doggy door to go outside and, when Keys looked out the window later, the swarm was gone.

The insects had settled in a small tree outside a neighbor’s house, forming a large clump. Soon, the creeping mass covered a couple of large branches.

Keys thought they could be killer bees or wasps that could sting children in the neighborhood. She started calling authorities, but had a hard time finding the right branch of government.

According to Keys, a Modesto police officer said it was outside the department’s purview and suggested calling an exterminator. Other officials said the onus was on the property owner because the bugs were not in a public street tree.

The Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office (at 525-4730) ultimately sent out a field inspector to the Rosemont Avenue home who identified the bugs as common bees.

“What we do when it’s a swarm of bees is give (the resident) a list of beekeepers to call, and a beekeeper comes out and takes care of it,” said Dan Bernaciak, assistant agricultural commissioner.

Swarms are created when drones leave a hive with an adult queen to find a new area to populate.

Bernaciak said the department is concerned about the possibility of African bees — if people or animals are attacked without provocation. “In this case, it was not anything outside of normal behavior,” he said.

Hughson beekeeper Manuel Espitia said Keys was wise to take precautions. European honeybees are not as aggressive as African bees but can do harm. In early March, a dog in Waterford was killed after it was repeatedly stung by European bees.

Espitia collected the swarm on Rosemont, first cutting the branches and laying them on top of a box hive so the bees would crawl inside it. He left and came back that evening, finding the bees had crawled back onto the tree. He spent about 90 minutes collecting the swarm.

Espitia said he doesn’t charge a fee to collect a swarm that joins the other working bees in his apiary. He placed the Rosemont swarm in a hive that will help pollinate an organic cherry orchard.

Espitia charges $25 to $50 to collect established hives from private property, because they often die out when relocated. He charges more to collect hives from hard-to-reach places, such as the wall of a home, but some homeowners opt for an exterminator in that situation.

UPDATE ON RECOUNT

Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan said she has waived the cost for her time spent on the December recount of the Riverbank mayoral election, thereby reducing the bill for former mayor Virginia Madueno by about $4,000.

Madueno disputed the $10,217 charge for the partial recount, which did not change the outcome. A Madueno supporter made a $2,400 deposit to start the process Dec. 10 and the count was stopped after 5 1/2 hours. The county election office later billed the campaign an extra $7,817 for staff time preparing for the recount.

Lundrigan said she did not know if waiving her time had settled the dispute.

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