They swarm. They sting. And in spring, millions of bees buzz around the East Valley looking for places to nest.

Fire departments and pest control companies have been fielding hundreds of calls in recent weeks from residents dealing with bees that are building hives near homes, parks and businesses.

“It’s the busiest time of year, and we’ve seen a real surge in the number of calls,” said Tom Martin, bee expert and president of AAA Africanized Bee Removal Specialists, which removes bees in Scottsdale and the East Valley.

From March to June, bee populations are at the highest. It’s when plants and flowers are in full bloom, and bees are looking to store the honey they pollinate.

Martin said his company has seen a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in bee calls this year.

The most common places for hives are under roof overhangs, in trees, above doors and windows, in attics and below garage or shed floors.

Many East Valley fire departments receive a handful of daily bee-related calls. In spring of 2005, the Chandler Fire Department handled 1,377 calls about bees. Chandler battalion chief Dan Couch said bee calls have dropped off a bit in 2007.

Fire departments often don’t respond to the calls unless the bees are actively stinging a person, swarming around crowds or attacking an animal.

Usually, the departments refer callers to beekeepers or pest control companies.

“They are better suited to deal with the bees,” said Allison Cooper, spokeswoman for the Rural/Metro Fire Department. “Sometimes, it’s messy out there, and our firefighters aren’t trained as beekeepers.”

More than 20,000 bees can live in one nest, and a footballsize hive has about 8,000 bees, Martin said.

These are dangerous numbers, especially with Arizona’s growing population of Africanized bees, known as “killer bees,” that are more aggressive than other types.

Gov. Janet Napolitano added the species to the state’s list of public nuisances earlier this month because they are considered a danger to public health.

Bees get more defensive in June as flowers produce less pollen. During this time, Martin advises avoiding bees because they will be more protective of their hives and honey, making them more likely to attack.

People should call a beekeeper as soon as they notice swarms of bees hovering near their home or forming clusters, Martin said.

“People shouldn’t wait until bees have built a hive before they do something about it,” Martin said. “But if bees are just landing on flowers in your yard, that’s not a problem.”

Preventing hives

Tom Martin, a beekeeper and bee removal specialist, says people should be vigilant to keep bees away:

• Take a walk around your house once a week to see if bees are gathering.

• Check walls, the roof and spaces above doors and windows.

• Take caulk and fill cracks larger than the diameter of a pencil. “If bees can’t build a nest easily, they will move on down the block,” Martin said.

• Call a beekeeper the moment bees begin to gather around an area.

Protect your pet

• Don’t tie, leash or leave your pet near a beehive.

• Keep pets inside while doing yard work because you may accidently shake up a beehive.

• Dogs’ barks can irritate bees and cause swarms.

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