The East Valley is learning the circle of life sometimes has a sting to it, as an army of Africanized bees fans out to feed on this year’s bumper crop of flowering plants.
Mesa appears to be the center of the East Valley infestation — one of the first after after a decade of drought put a damper on wild bees infiltrated by "killer" bees in the early 1990s.
The Mesa Fire Department has gone to 36 bee calls so far this month — eight on Tuesday alone. In 2004, there were 20 for all of March, said deputy fire chief Mary Cameli.
Swarms, so far this year, have not attacked people or pets, she said.
"We’ve had calls about swarms near schools and playgrounds where kids are, but nothing that drastic yet," she said.
Beekeepers and exterminators say they’re getting calls from all over the Valley, with no one area proving to be especially sticky. Aside from Mesa, no other fire department appears to have a big spike in calls.
In Gilbert, the fire department has been called out for bees six times this past week. Rural/Metro Fire Department has had very little bee-related activity in Scottsdale or the rest of the territory it serves in unincorporated Maricopa and Pinal counties. The Chandler Fire Department has had only four bee calls all year.
Chandler fire battalion chief Dan Couch believes that farmland swallowed up by development has taken away the alfalfa, citrus and other crops bees used to feed on.
"In Chandler, we’ve pretty much built out from end to end," he said.
Given the lush vegetation left behind by near-record rainfall, the bees have been, well, busy.
Bob Chapman of Mesabased Valley Bee Control noted that they’re remarkably self-sufficient, building their own shelter and hauling in their own food and water after a long day of pollinating desert flora and annoying desert fauna.
"If it weren’t for the problems they cause and the mess they make, they’d make great pets," Chapman said.
Chapman said his company had 54 calls last week alone from across the Valley, and while most of his customer base is in the East Valley, customers have called from as far away as Wickenburg.
He said only about one call in 50 involves what he considers "extremely aggressive" swarms, and they generally only get that way if they feel their hive is being threatened.
Bees tend to gravitate toward trees, either to "rest" between destinations or set up a hive. But they’re also opportunistic buggers that can infiltrate the walls of homes or other buildings through holes as small as an eighth of an inch, Chapman said. A swarm of 5,000 bees can file into a quarter-inch opening in under 10 minutes, he said.
The easiest way for a homeowner to tell whether a few bees hanging around the house is a bigger problem is to see what happens as the sun goes down.
If a bee flies in a hole somewhere and doesn’t come back out, it’s probably rejoined its colony for the evening.
"Bees have a good union — they don’t work nights," he said.
Paul Younger, owner of the Patagonia Honey Co. in Queen Creek, said he’s gotten a number of calls from the town government and residents to see if he can "adopt" a beehive they’ve found.
"Typically, though, I try to tell them how to kill them," he said, "because nobody really wants these bees."