I’m A Bee Detective Seriously
Picture a bee detective. Did you just conjure up an image of an anthropomorphic bee in a little fedora, making honey puns at the sexy queen that just got buzzed into his office? Good. We’re on the same wavelength here. But sadly, that’s not what a real bee detective looks like. We spoke to Dale, an apiary inspector for the state of Ohio. As he puts it, “My job is to look for disease in the hive [and] issues with pests that can cause harm to that hive or hives in the area.” If it’s any consolation, you may continue to picture him as a cartoon bee in a trench coat. There’s no harm in that.
Being A Bee Detective Sometimes Means High Speed Chases And The Police
A lot of wacky misunderstandings happen when you’re cruising around in a beemobile. “I received a call for a swarm that was at a neighbor’s house [when] my wife and I were at a wedding,” Dale says, because bee detectives are apparently on call? “I knew I only had a short time before they would fly off, so dressed in my suit, I threw on a bee vale and climbed a tree [to] cut a branch off that had the swarm. I did not have anything to put them in, so I just laid the branch with bees on it in the back of the van and jumped in and drove them to my apiary.”
That turned out to be a bad plan. “I had bees flying all over in my van and I did not have my full suit on, so I was worried that I would get stung,” Dale continues. He admits he was “driving a little fast” when he noticed the worst thing he could have seen at that moment: flashing red and blues. “A state trooper clocked me and tried to pull me over,” he explains. “Not sure what to do, I pulled over, he came to the window . I held up my badge and yelled that I had bees in the back, [and] when he looked in the van, he could see the swarm buzzing around. I have never seen someone run to their car so fast and take off.”
So Tommy Boy was completely right. Again.
Even just the ol’ beemobile itself can cause some problems. “I was out inspecting in the woods and left my car parked alongside the road with a magnetic sticker on the side identifying me as the county bee inspector.” Much to his surprise, “my car was called in as a meth lab (because of my smokers in the back) and it was impounded and searched.” Presumably, that magnetic sticker is a lot bigger and more prominent now. Perhaps featuring several profanities. But speaking of bees and illicit substances .
It’s actually a clever setup. “[It] seems that [the] heat signature of a beehive and . marijuana plants are similar, so they’re harder to detect,” Dale explains. “When a helicopter or drone flies over using heat signature technology looking for the plants, it looks like a row of beehives. The hives are registered, so when the location is checked against the Department of Agriculture database, the location will show as a registered apiary (bee yard) and be dismissed. Also, honey can be harvested about the same time that the marijuana plants are harvested, so there is little suspicion. The state of Ohio allows for an apiary to be excluded from inspection as a voluntary opt out.” It’s an almost foolproof scheme. Unfortunately, “the location that I came across forgot to check that box.”
While Dale has only encountered this kind of situation twice in five years, he reports that inspectors in Southern Ohio run into it all the time. A bigger problem for him is the surprising number of people (that is, more than zero) with an equal love for beekeeping and bootlegging. “I have one beekeeper [whose hives I inspect], and I have to carry a walking stick with me to check for bear traps [because] he runs a moonshine still and does not want anyone just showing up on his property and finding it. He does not always remember where he has placed the traps, so I use the stick and keep my eyes to the ground when I walk back to his hives.”
Bizarrely, it’s legal to make moonshine in Ohio, but “there are still some ‘good ol’ boys’ that feel the government needs to stay out of their business, so they run unregistered stills.” That’s where this sort of thing becomes an ethical dilemma for Dale. As a government employee, it’s bad news for everyone, including him, if he witnesses illegal activity. “As far as reporting, there is a fine line between getting involved and getting shot. I stay out of the reporting of stills business, as I don’t want to upset anyone. My main concern is the inspection of the hives, and the rest is up to other inspectors.” Unfortunately, “with marijuana, it is a must report.” That shit’s federal, and “it would be a charge of obstructing justice all the way to accessory to the crime” if he didn’t.
Stings Aren’t Dangerous, But Rednecks With Guns Are
“As far as stings, the understanding that the wasp family and the bee family are two different things is very important,” Dale says. “When we talk about wasps, we are talking about wasps, hornets, yellowjackets. These are not pollinators, and are just bugs. They have a smooth stinger and can sting over and over again. They run their stinger like a sewing machine and will sting up to 20 times in a few seconds. Beekeepers keep away from these.”
When you think of bee attacks in popular culture, you definitely remember My Girl:
We asked Dale about that scene, and he confirmed that those are hornets. Mind you, the word “hornet” is not said a single time in the movie they’re always referred to as “bees.”
Dale says, “Hornets will attack when they sense danger, and they will also attack in large number.” But no, regular bees do not behave like that. You have little risk of getting stung by an actual bee, unless you piss it off to the point of suicide. “Honeybees have a barbed stinger, so they can only sting one time, and as they fly away, the stinger stays attached to what they have stung, and the process pulls their entire innards out,” Dale says. “So honeybees will only sting when provoked or stepped on.”
So stings aren’t a big issue in this job. No, the main health hazards when dealing with bees are all the chemicals. “The only other issue that will come into play for beekeepers, as far as danger, would be oxalic acid used to kill and control verroa mites. This is applied by a vapor smoke to the bees before the honey comes on, or in the fall, once the honey is off. It does not kill the bees, only the mites. As a non chemical beekeeper, I choose not to use it, but I know guys who have been out smoking hives all day (commercial keepers with hundreds of hives) and have become sick from getting into the smoke.”
Plus there’s always the odd redneck with a shotgun. Dale vividly remembers: “I was inspecting a set of hives, and was crouched down by the hive pulling some frames when I felt something hard pushed into the back of my head. The beekeeper thought I was trying to steal his honey, and was holding a shotgun to the back of my head. He was giving me very specific directions as to what I would and would not do.”
Wait, is honey theft a real risk in the high stakes world of beekeeping? “Honey theft is not a problem, but rednecks with guns that want to protect their property are an issue,” Dale says. Incidents like these are what prompted his department to start issuing more robust badges, as the paper one Dale previously carried didn’t look very convincing. “The decline of bees in the world has made for great conversations about the honeybee and what we need to do to protect the bees,” Dale says. “As more information surfaces, more people get involved by getting into beekeeping. This has caused an increase in beekeepers, but not an increase in bees.”
As with everything else in life, it comes down to money and common sense. “A professional beekeeper (someone who does this as a job, not a hobby) will invest in keeping the bees, developing hive management strategies, producing queens to ensure longevity of a gene or trait,” Dale says. On the other hand, “a hobby beekeeper will read about how chemicals are killing the bees or causing poisons to be spread into the honey. Hobby keepers will choose not to use the needed chemicals to kill varroa or small hive beetles in the hive. This causes the bees to either get upset and abscond from the hive, or to not be strong enough to survive winter.”
“Hives that do not make it through winter have to be restocked from other hives. This is usually done by purchasing a package of bees from a bee supplier. So what we have is a redistribution of bees, rather than a growth in the bee population.” It’s particularly exasperating because, according to Dale, “if hobby beekeepers would learn to do more than just raise bees for a summer, let them die off, harvest the honey, and restock, we would be able to grow the population of bees.”
“Other issues we have is that bees are not able to establish themselves in the wild,” Dale explains. “When a swarm of bees leave the hive (due to overpopulation), the bees are either killed because they landed in someone’s back yard and caused concern, or they are taken by a hobby beekeeper to a hive and not properly managed.” So in summation: Stop being a dick to bees, guys. They’re pretty chill.
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