SALEM, Ohio — A swarm of bees is enough to make most people run for cover. Unless you’re Bob the Bee Man.
When he sees bees, he can’t wait to get his hands on them.
Bob the Bee Man, also known as Bob Chmelik, is a state registered beekeeper and bee removal specialist. If you’ve got bees in your trees, shrubs, garage, barn, attic or walls, he’s the man to call.
Chmelik specializes in removing honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, yellow jackets, wasps and hornets in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
But the Bee Man is not your average exterminator — although he does kill the “nuisance insects” with sprays, he takes the honeybees out alive.
Free the bees
No one wants to share his home with 50,000 honeybees — the number of bees in just one hive — but Chmelik said killing them isn’t the answer. Saving and relocating the bees allows Chmelik and other local beekeepers to expand their hives, boosting the area’s bee population.
Bees are necessary for pollinating plants, making honey and producing beeswax, which is used in everything from cosmetics to the outer coating on pills.
Last year, many bees — including Chmelik’s five hives — were lost to Colony Collapse Disorder. The Bee Man said the honeybee population is recovering this year, but it’s still crucial to save as many bees as possible.
Tools of the trade
Chmelik, a member of the Columbiana-Mahoning Beekeepers Association, sometimes uses a bee vacuum to suck the honeybees from behind walls and other hard-to-reach areas. The bees go into a special box where they are held until the Bee Man transfers them to a hive.
But often, Chmelik doesn’t need his vacuum. The bees frequently cluster on tree limbs and a quick shake of the branch will cause most of the bees to drop into a swarm box. As long as the queen bee makes it into the box, the rest of the swarm will follow.
As the weather begins to warm in the spring each year, thousands of bees are hatched in already-established hives. When it gets too crowded, half of the bees leave in search of a new home.
The searching process is called swarming and bees in Ohio usually swarm in April and May once the temperature reaches about 50 degrees.
It’s often those swarming bees that cause frantic calls to the Bee Man. And rightly so. He said it’s best to get rid of those swarms as soon as you see them. If you don’t, the bees could decide to take up residence in your home or garage.
If honeybees have built a nest on your property, there’s more to think about than the bees themselves. When Chmelik removes honeybees, he also tries to remove as much of their honeycomb as possible. If the honeycomb is left behind, it will melt in warm temperatures and honey will leak through walls and ceilings.
Honeybees are organized creatures, according to Chmelik. Each worker bee has a specific job in the hive. Some are undertakers that haul dead bees out of the hive, others groom the queen bee. Field bees bring pollen and nectar back to the hive, guard bees protect the hive, and other bees keep the hive neat and tidy.
Less than 0.25 percent of the bees in one hive are males, or drones. Drones have no stingers and their only job is to mate with the queen. After they mate, the drones promptly die.
Bees stay active until the weather begins to cool in September and October when any remaining drones are forced out of the hive and kept out by the guard bees. The drones die in the cool fall temperatures, but worker bees survive the winter in the hive.
Chmelik, who retired in 2006 after a 36-year career Delphi Packard, moved his first swarm 30 years ago. His uncle was a beekeeper and Chmelik can vividly remember moving that first swarm from his uncle’s apple tree.
He enjoyed working with bees and eventually became a state registered beekeeper. As such, his name was on file at the local extension office and when someone called there with a bee or wasp problem, Chmelik was the go-to guy.
When he saw the demand for wasp and yellow jacket removal, Chmelik took courses to become certified in that area, as well.
While he’s removed hundreds of swarms since that original one in the apple tree, Chmelik still has his uncle’s beehives.
He said he does get stung sometimes, but only when he’s rushing. If he’s calm and takes his time, the bees don’t bother him.
The Bee Man pointed out that honeybees die after stinging someone or something. They aren’t like yellow jackets or wasps, which can continually sting.
Most of the calls Chmelik gets — he estimates about 80 percent — are regarding the nuisance insects like wasps and yellow jackets. Only about 20 percent are for honeybees. And even when he gets a call about swarming honeybees, he sometimes doesn’t get to the site fast enough to capture them.
But the Bee Man enjoys his work and figures a few false alarms are just part of the job.
With his busy season currently starting to warm up, Chmelik is looking forward to another year of taking on the insect-induced problems of area homeowners.
And another year of harnessing those honeybees.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)