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Posted on Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 9:23 p.m.

Beekeeper attacked by 'overly aggressive' bees; firefighters use 750 gallons of water to disperse them

By Amalie Nash


Pittsfield Fire Captains Jeff Foulke and Greg Payeur use water to spray a beekeeper under attack.

Photo courtesy of the Pittsfield Township Fire Department

A beekeeper was stung about 50 times when a swarm of approximately 1,000 bees attacked her in the driveway of her Pittsfield Township home this evening.

Pittsfield Township firefighters used 750 gallons of water to disperse the colony of bees after the woman called for help.

The woman, who lives in the 7400 block of Fosdick Road, called to a family member to get help at about 7:30 p.m., said Fire Captain Greg Payeur.

When firefighters arrived, the woman - dressed in a bee suit - was surrounded by a swarm of "overly aggressive bees," a press release said.


Firefighters use water on the bees.

Photo courtesy of the Pittsfield Township Fire Department

She was using a garden hose in an attempt to disperse the bees, but was having no success. Firefighters donned full fire gear, including airpacks, to protect themselves from the bees, the release said.

"The bees were bouncing off our masks and our helmets," Payeur said. "When we initially got there, it was like a black cloud hanging over her."

Firefighters used water from a fire hose to create a wall between them and the bees, then flooded the beekeeper with water, Payeur said. The beekeeper directed firefighters to spray water into the air so it rained down on the bees, which don't like rain, Payeur said.

"When we saw her using the hose, we decided it was probably the best method for dispersing them," Payeur said. "We just flooded her until the bees started to disperse."

The woman was able to run into her garage, get out of the bee suit and run into her home, Payeur said.

The woman, who has bees to harvest honey, told firefighters she was tending to the queen when the colony of bees became disturbed and began attacking her. She was unable to escape the swarm of bees using normal methods.

Despite being stung approximately 50 times on her feet and legs, she declined to be transported to the hospital, Payeur said. 

No firefighters were stung during the incident, which took about 30 minutes.


Firefighters use water to scatter a swarm of bees Tuesday evening.

Photo courtesy of the Pittsfield Township Fire Department



Fri, Jul 30, 2010 : 2:51 p.m.

Going in the Hive at 7:30pm.... is not proper Beekeeping bee-haviour. Don't know how to approach a horse, you get the hoof! This is a good example of why training courses and a passion including self-education is required for beekeeping. Theses aren't stuffed toys! Hopefully events like this do not tarnish the work of good beekeepers.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 4:36 p.m.

n2 ( per your last)...just as some people can walk and chew gum at the same time,they can ( and should) be concerned about multiple things.. others may be more 'multi-task challenged' and 'one thing at a time ' oriented.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 10:19 a.m.

A2b2 - yes, I have affection for several of that breed of dog. But you will find many times more injuries caused by all dogs and cats that any you will ever determined to be caused my domesticated honey bees. People should bee more concerned about sex offenders living in their neighborhood, than whether their neighbors keep honey bees.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 11:18 p.m.

tru2blu76 - There is not any department in Washtenaw county that uses an additive in their tank water. It's all just plain old water, usually from a municipal source, or sometimes drafted water from the Huron or other water body. But most departments that get draft water from training or fire operations usually flush the trucks asap. They may use soap in other places, but around here nobody does. Trucks do carry AFFF (aqueous film forming foam) or similar for petroleum or alcohol fires, but those are in sealed 5 gallon buckets just carried on the trucks or on the county-shared foam trailer that Superior Township currently takes care of. So rest assured we'll have no soapy bees around here.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 5:17 p.m.

oops, looks like the bees are done per Antoinete Rucillo said beekeeping is her hobby and that if she thought they were a threat to any of her four children that she would get rid of them. However, after this incident, her husband said he's had enough of the bees. "My hope is that we won't have the hives anymore out of an abundance of caution," he said. "Apparently this is extremely rare and if she insists on having them, I will have no problem as so long as when she goes out there, our kids and I are 10 miles elsewhere."


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 3:06 p.m.

I think there is a business near briarwood that does something with bees. At least there was 14 years ago when a co-workers boyfried worked there. He was doing something at work and was attacked by bees who got into a whole in his suit, and stung him all over his legs and manhood.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 2:25 p.m.

As someone who is allergic to bees, it is my business if a neighbor chooses to keep bees in a residential area.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 2:05 p.m.

n2ishon...excuse me, but your post sounds alot like pit bull aficianados who tell others to dummy up re fear of ( well known) attacks from the breed.... in related matters although ants and bees are obviously different,the complex world of queen -dominated social insects is about to be popularized (?) by entymologist/sociobiologist E.O. WILSON in a novel about ants which just was previewed in the NEW YORKER... sounds like humans can sometimes fiddle with such at their peril.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 1:26 p.m.

I am very interested in speaking with this beekeeper for purposes of scientific honey bee research. This appears to be unusual behavior and certainly requires explanation. My fear is that no follow up will occur and the real value of this event will be lost. If you know this person and are willing to forward her contact information to my email address I would appreciate it very much or if you are not comfortable with that could you could forward my request to her? Thank you in advance. Richard Mendel my email is


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:39 p.m.

daytona- most "wild" bees do not survive long, because the parasites and mites and diseases that need tending by the bee keeper. Perhaps she was inspecting for the queens existence, health or attempting to clip her wings - who knows, who cares? call and ask her. 7 PM on a hot humid evening is not a good time to bee in the hive, The consequence was not normal, but not that unusual. Those unfamiliar with bees should not judge the properness of keeping urban bees, nor should they counsel those who do.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:29 p.m.

10o0 bees is not many really. I have counted out that many from a dead hive just to see and estimate future losses. Too many commenters have no clue about bee beehaviors. They are much safer than most pet dogs and cats. But regardless, I have lots of local honey from my hives for sale. I am in Saginaw. Have hive in back yard.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:16 p.m.

I know nothing about bee keeping. But I'm curious, the story says the woman told firefighters she was "tending to the queen" when the colony of bees became disturbed and began attacking her. What does "tending to the queen" involve? How often does the queen need "tending to" and who "tends to the queen" if the hive is out in the wild, without human tending? Apparently the bees do not like it when the queen is "tended to"


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:16 p.m.

This beekeeper doesn't seem to know what she was in for. I'd like to see some follow-up on this somewhat unique story though. Where are people getting these ideas to keep bees in suburban neighborhoods and how qualified are they to do so in populated areas with lots of kids, animals, and vulnerable people around? It seems patently unsafe unless someone knows what they are doing.

Lisa Bashert

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:05 p.m.

Thanks, Linda, for your moderate response. I, like the other beekeepers who have commented, am surprised to hear that honeybees behaved like this -- completely out of character for these gentle critters. Winn Harless did tell me he believes he has seen some package honeybees from the south exhibit some aggressive traits of Africanized bees. That's why the Local Honey Project in Ypsi is working on using survivor colonies of Michigan-adapted honeybees in our hives. All of our urban hives are completely gentle and, though we do use smoke (of course), they are so relaxed that we hardly need it. I really wonder what went on with the beekeeper in question -- I'm glad she was not seriously hurt. Beekeeper Bob brings up the common situations in which honeybees can act defensively. That was a good list and I bet we find out that one or more of these factors were in play -- I know it's important to keep your bee gear washed and free of smells, be careful not to crush bees while working them, use smoke, move slowly and carefully, and if the bees seem disturbed, simply close up the hive slowly and come back another day. Beekeeping is an art, with always more to learn the longer you do it. I recommend taking the SE Michigan Beekeepers Association bee school at Tollgate Farm in Novi. As you learn, it is most helpful to have experienced beekeepers around to guide you and help you recognize when to walk away.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

re cibachrome's..yes- african 'killer bees' are migrating far and wide...and northward.. from places in the southern U.s.,where they're well established, helped by warming climates. they can interbreed with native strains... and they are not 'killers' because of stronger venom, but rather because of more aggressive 'swarming' tendencies like those described here... i think this story won't be the last of its knd locally....and i'd be nervous living near any beekeeping operation.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

lol @ craig "maybe it was 865" Lots of interesting comments, never knew bees were such complicated creatures.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 11:05 a.m.

How embarassing for the lady in the picture! Nothing like having a picture on the community website with your rear-end sticking out getting hosed down by the fire department. Oh well, at least she's OK.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 10:07 a.m.

Goodness! I was stung one time this past weekend when a bee was in my hat as I put it on... hurt like crazy! Can't imagine getting stung 50 times!


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

I love how many people are getting interested in beekeeping - my husband and I go through a few gallons of raw honey a year *Mmmm*. We don't have the time, expertise, or room to have our own hive, but our garden is extensively planted with bee and hummingbird-friendly flowers, shrubs, and trees. We get oodles of honey, bumble, and native solitary bees all spring and summer - it's fun to watch them going about their business, pollen bags all full.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

We NEED TO KNOW WHAT KIND of BEES..and more facts to keep our bees here. we have gardens and need there servcie, so please answer our question...We donotw ant to "handpolunation" like they have to do in china.My garden just doing good and my flower are now


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

I'm thinking she may not have known exactly what she was doing and is new at beekeeping, which could be the case -- urban beekeeping seems to be the new macram.

Jay Burlage

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

The only question to ask here: DID SHE KEEP HER SUIT CLEAN... Bees use scent to communicate. If there is any buildup it can create a 'tipping point' PS anyone who scoffs at the importance of bees is completely clueless.

Beekeeper Bob

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

There are a few things that can cause a normally docile hive to become aggressive. a)Opening your hive on a cloudy day. Before, or during bad weather. b)Having a foreign scent on your clothing, or person (perfume to residual gasoline.) Bees live in a world where scent is communication. c)Lack of incoming food (pollen and nectar) during a dearth causes bees to feel that they need to defend what they have. d)A superseding queen has mated with a drone that carries an aggressive trait, causing the new brood to possess the aggressive tendency. e)Squishing bees while you work your hive will cause the pinched bees to emit an alarm pheromone (it smells like bananas), and could cause a tense hive to act out. f)Your hive is being raided at night by another animal that has arrived to eat your bees (most often a skunk). This will cause the hive to be on a high level of defensiveness. Or, worse, we could be looking at the bee whose name no beekeeper wants to speak. Though this is not likely, it needs to be mentioned. I instruct free Beekeeping 101 classes for Ann Arbor Free Skool, Downtown Home and Garden, and Transition Ann Arbor. I am managing a very happy and mellow hive on the roof of Downtown Home and Garden, it is viewable through a window, just ask to see the bees. I am available for private instruction, hive inspection, or apiarist conversation.

Fred Zimmerman

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 8:16 a.m.

So now Ann Arbor adds "BeeGate" to its ever-growing list of controversies, with "Bee Truthers" arguing that these purportedly American bees were actually born in Africa and "Beekeepers as Heroes" making arguments almost as strained as the Tea Party's.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

To fisherman earlier -- 750 gallons of water is actually not very much. I am not sure what Pittsfield uses, but it's probably a 1-3/4 inch handline. Running that at standard operating pressure of 80-100 psi, depending on several factors such as length and type of nozzle, etc.... that's going to flow roughly 250 gallons per minute, and a typical engine carries in the neighborhood of 1500 gallons. Likely when spraying down the bees, they cut back the pressure and/or gated back the hose to reduce the gpm and also probably sprayed intermittently, but you're still talking about flowing water for only a few minutes.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 8:01 a.m.

What did the bee say to the flower? "Hello honey!" Good job Pittsfield Firefighters!

Tammy Mayrend

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 6:57 a.m.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall of dispatch when this call came in. "You have what attacking?" and "You want the fire department to do what?" I'm sure it didn't go down like that however pulling up in the firetruck must have been a surreal experience, and certainly not something you see more than once in a lifetime. Very wild!


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 6:47 a.m.

"Beekeepers are modern heroes, preserving an essential part of our food supply and environment." By that definition, modern heroes include migrant farm workers, the checkout clerk at Whole Foods, truck drivers, diesel mechanics, petroleum engineers, seed distributors, meteorologists,...

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 6:37 a.m.

3 years ago 1000 honey bees, maybe it was 865, I forget, showed up at my house and moved in to a knot hole in my Shag Bark Hickory tree about 16-18 feet up. My question is, am I a hero or do I need to get a bee keeper hood and one of those smoke pots to qualify?


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 3:11 a.m.

"A beekeeper was stung about 50 times when a swarm of approximately 1,000 bees" Really? one-thousand? Who counted?


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 2:35 a.m.

Marshall Applewhite, chapmaja was being nice. I would call you clueless. If we lost all our bees right now, the agriculture in this nation would collapse and we would be in dire straits. Linda knows very well what she is talking about and is one of those heroes. Beekeepers are awesome! We have a neighbor, Lonnie who keeps bees and sells the best honey in town! You should read up on the subject and then you might know what the 'buzz' is about! LOL!


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 1:06 a.m.

There are certainly a lot more details which haven't been reported here. I agree with the comments that this is definitely abnormal honeybee behavior. Opening a hive and working with a queen or bee brood is normal activity for beekeepers, and I just wonder if smoke was used here. A puff of smoke must always be used when opening a hive and working with a colony of bees. I wonder if maybe a frame of honeycomb with bees may have been dropped, or quick movements made by the beekeeper when the hive was opened. Bees don't appreciate either of these things. The use of sprayed water can hardly be justified in honeybee control, and seems not to have been very effective if 750 gallons were used to disperse only 1000 bees (who counted them anyway?) Where was the smoker, and why was it not used here instead of water?


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 11:50 p.m.

Marshall Applewhite, You must really be in your own little world if you don't think beekeepers are modern heros in some regards. There is a reason that it is common to find farmers keeping beehives on the property they farm. Bees are one of the best pollenators there is. Beehive Collapse Disorder has been an issue in the last couple years. The lesser mentioned issue is the fact pollenation of fruit crops has also been down in areas that BCD has been present. A neighbor had her hive collapse last year and the pollenation of my garden plants was way down from previous years as a result. Bees are much more than a producer of a food source, they are also a key part of farming in this country. Those who keep beehives play a small but very important role in aggriculture in this state and country. I guess your definition of a hero might be a little skewed though.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 11:46 p.m.

Didn't Jimmy the Greek lose his job over a discussion like this?


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 11:27 p.m.

Not all 'bees' are the friendly, passive critters your story books describe. The new strains of Africanized bees are pretty deadly. They are slowly working their way Northward after 'being' deliberately brought here. They have been known to kill cattle, horses, and people. They have a distinct look, size and colorization so it shouldn't be difficult to ascertain what kind these were or what interbreeding has occurred. This is another part of the effort to 'Globalize' the gene pool. Only its been a disaster to local gardens, pollinators, and honey lovers. Go and 'comb' the internet to 'frame' the 'super' information hive. The 'drone' of my hives is pretty quiet.


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 11:26 p.m.

Wow! That's a lot of defense of the bees. Turns out bee advocates can also be "defensive" if disturbed. (I wonder how many defensive creatures we should intentionally raise in urban areas?) Thankfully, the keeper was wearing protection and knew how to react. Where I live, there are some "urban bees" in cute little copper rimmed houses nestled in easy, open access between two businesses (no fence, warning or any restricted access, at all). I can't help think what could happen if a child saw these little houses (seriously, they look like doll houses) and approached without the benefit of a suit... I don't want to call anyone out, but just hope our local bee advocate considers the potential for harm here!


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 11:02 p.m.

You haven't lived until you've been stung 40 times in 30 seconds. Of course, when you have, you don't want to live. :) She needs to requeen that hive quickly, if she can. She then needs to send sampled bees to Zach Huang at MSU and to Jerry Hayes, the Florida Apiarist, for some quick genetic testing. I'm willing to bet serious money that this was another of the novice beekeepers led astray by the "small cell beekeeping" cult, which is under the mistaken impression that "small cell" bees will survive and thrive in the face of varroa mites. The self-appointed priestess of the cult has been caught before selling queens from her home in AZ, which have proven by genetic tests to be (no surprise) Africanized Honey Bees, which are slightly smaller than European Honey Bees, but are also far more defensive. She likely has some of those bees, or progeny of those bees. Hard to imagine that Africanized Bees would make it to Michigan, even on a truck or in a boxcar. And there is no such thing as an "aggressive" honey bee. "Defensive" is the word here. Even Africanized bees (so-called "killer bees) are defensive, and merely defend their hive. The use of the term "aggressive" to describe Honey Bees is terrible entomology, and very poor journalism, in desperate need of fact-checking.

Marshall Applewhite

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 10:59 p.m.

Argh.... The comment was "Beekeepers are modern heroes."

Marshall Applewhite

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 10:30 p.m.

I can't believe I just read this statement by another commenter: "Beekeepers and modern heroes" Talk about being separated from reality........


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 9:21 p.m.

"Bee careful", Good one Pizza Man. Been stung one time in my 51 years by a honey bee when I was picking a flower and grabbed him by his "bee-hind". Been stung numerous times by wasps (generally not aggressive unless you invade their territory) and even more so by ground hornets for simply walking over their hole in the ground. They are small but their stings hurt like a bee-----itch!!!

Richard Retyi

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 9:06 p.m.

Call Winn Harless, STAT!


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 9:04 p.m.

I have to ask what kind of honey bee - if they were in an apiary,where did they originally come from AND...did anyone have the sense to capture one or two of those bees for a little research. Honeybees should not be that aggressive.

Linda Diane Feldt

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

I hope we hear more details on this story. That is just such bizarre behavior for honeybees, there must be more to the story. I've pissed off my hives numerous times (too much time spent with the open hive, working them after someone was pounding nearby and creating a vibration, working them when stormy weather was approaching, moving a hive in the dark) and got stung a couple times. And I deserved it clearly each time. It never got even close to the point of danger. I can't imagine what would annoy that many bees, and would certainly like to learn from her experience if possible! The only time I encountered a really dangerous hive it was obvious just walking near them, I contacted the state bee inspector (a position no longer in existence) to come out and find out if they were being mistreated or had a disease. It was a hive someone else owned out in the country. They welcomed the report. It is just that rare. I've had backyard bees for many years, beginning more than 20 years ago. I've captured many swarms, all without any problems. These are gentle creatures but yet still wild. I'm very curious about what happened. Because any time wild creatures act that out of character, we need to learn from it and do better. Beekeepers are modern heroes, preserving an essential part of our food supply and environment. I feel so badly that something went wrong and hope the rest of this puzzle is known soon. And meanwhile, I am glad this story is balanced with the many reports of happy hives that are growing in popularity in the city and nearby countryside. Because when we come down to it, we need the bees. The honey is just a bonus.


Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 8:53 p.m.

I thought I was reading a report from "The Onion" at first....

Pizza Man

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 : 8:52 p.m.

Sometimes you just need to Bee careful.