Saving bees by the sea is complicated but rewarding work for one man with a mission
They hide in the rafters, walls and under decks. They squeeze themselves into crevices and cracks, seeking places that are cool and dry and where they safely can make their homes and replenish their hives.
Honey bees love buzzing and living on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the climate is conducive to a year-round growing season with flowers and blooms available for pollination.
Bees, dubbed the tiniest livestock, are essential for most of Earth’s environments to survive. Their most important job is to pollinate plants so they can reproduce. When a bee collects nectar and pollen from the flower of a plant, some of the pollen sticks to the hairs of the bee’s body. This pollen is rubbed off onto the next plant the bee visits. When this happens, fertilization is possible, and a fruit — carrying seeds — can develop.
Wild bee colonies live in a complex hierarchy system. They’re eusocial, which means they’re members of a group acting together as one, characterized by cooperative care of young, overlapping generations and the division of labor through a caste system. The team of the queen, worker bees, nurse bees and drones work in harmony with each other to expand the hive. But bees’ natural habitats are quickly vanishing, causing them to seek shelter in obscure places that sometimes surprise homeowners, said David Banki, owner of Banki Bee Removal.
Banki, a certified bee removal professional, has seen beehives in area neighborhoods hiding in floors, beneath outdoor structures, behind the eaves on the roof and inside gaps of wood in a house’s foundation, he said.
“The more houses there are, the more bees we find,” said Banki, who grew up in Kemah and has been in this business for more than a decade. His schedule is busiest on sunny days, and slower when it’s cold and bees stay at home and out of sight. “There are just more places to hide now, so it appears there is a decline. But there are lots of bees out there.”
When Banki is summoned to a home to remove bees, he first investigates how extensive the hive is and evaluates how much destruction the bees have caused to the home and how much rebuilding is required, he said. He doesn’t kill the bees, but either smokes them out or uses a special vacuum to carefully remove them before moving the hive. He then uses a special paint to “untag” the pheromone scent trail left on the wood of the structure that might attract new bees to the area. He fills open spaces with fiberglass insulation to stop new colonizing inside walls.
Once the bees have been successfully removed, Banki carefully disconnects the fragile wax honeycomb and then transports it with the bees to a site in Cleveland, Texas, where they can reestablish their home and continue pollinating and making honey.
“We don’t kill any bees,” Banki said. “We are not exterminators. We are movers.”
Banki’s background at refineries as an industrial worker, and later in home construction, helps because he knows how walls are built and structures are erected.
“I know how to find those bees and I know they can travel 5 or 6 feet inside a wall or under a pole on raised houses,” he said, noting that bees like to hang and wedge themselves in obscure places. “They are finding out how to adapt to our houses because their habitat is disappearing.”
Recently, he found more than 2,000 bees hidden under an elderly client’s sink, while another home in Dickinson had a 300-pound hive filled with honey and larvae. At a local college building, he rescued a hive before Thanksgiving in a dormitory and finds numerous hives in Friendswood. On Galveston’s West End, Banki discovered an 80-pound beehive under the homeowner’s deck, which he tried to photograph, he said.
“But it was difficult with bees coming at me,” he said, noting that the life cycle of a bee is only 42 days, which is cut short once it stings someone. A bee’s stinger has a toxin in it, which can cause problems for people who are stung.
Still, Banki has been stung hundreds of times and usually has no reaction, he said. But when one angry bee stung him in the jugular vein in his neck a few years ago, he had a serious, life-threatening reaction, he said. Now he travels with an ample supply of the antihistamine Benadryl in case he has another attack. He wears protective clothing, including a heavy canvas jumpsuit and veiled headdress, along with thick gloves and long sleeves. Because bees are attracted to light, he turns off any electrical lighting to keep the bees from swarming, he said.
“Bee removal is simple — you grab them and take them away,” he said. “But it is like defusing a bomb: the first few cuts are simple, but then it gets complicated.”
The goal is to save as many as possible and to put them in an environment where they can do their important work, Banki said.
“We want wild bees, rather than those in boxes which people grow as a hobby,” he said. “Wild bees learn to forage and fend for themselves and become complacent in the boxes. Our goal is the live removal.”
Along with the decline of habitats, bees are threatened by the use of pesticides. The chemicals don’t kill the swarming bees, but when the bees pollinate sprayed flowers, they take those pesticides back to the hive, which kills the larvae, causing what’s known as colony collapse — a serious problem occurring nationwide.
Banki would like to see companies sponsor hives and use structures such as cellphone towers to create new habitats for the industrious insects.
Banki smiles as he quotes his daughter, Taylor, who is 12 years old.
“Her motto is ‘hug more trees, clean our seas, save our bees,’” he said. “This is my heart. This is what pulls me through anything because I know I am helping to save these bees.”