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BULLETpeople archive
People Archive Photo
The Killer Bee Guy Store is located at 20 Main Street in Bisbee. For more information, call 877-227-9338 or visit www.killerbeeguy.com.

© John Wagner

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Let Me Bee
Africanized honeybees are the gangsters of the bee world. They're nasty, but Reed Booth isn't intimidated. Known as the "Killer Bee Guy," Booth has been removing hives for more than 20 years, and in that time, he's become the local expert on Africanized bees. He's also stockpiled a lot of honey.

By Roger Naylor

If you're ever in Southern Arizona and see something strange — perhaps a riding lawn mower that's going around in circles with no one aboard — you can expect to see Reed Booth at any moment.

Better known as the "Killer Bee Guy," Booth has been removing hives of Africanized bees for more than 20 years, and in that time, he's received all sorts of frantic phone calls.

"A man's out mowing and gets into a hive," says Booth, who's seen his share of "ghost" mowers. "He leaps off the mower and runs for the house. Or someone's operating a backhoe or a weedwacker, or they're just out walking. It doesn't always take a lot to set the bees off. They're agitated by noise, vibration and smell. They hate cologne. Old Spice, in particular, it seems like."

Booth inadvertently stumbled into this curious career. He was a home brewer who made mead, or honey wine. A friend gave him a gunnysack of bees, and he began a self-education process. Pretty soon, he was removing killer bee hives for neighbors in his hometown of Bisbee. Word spread. Today, he does most of the killer bee removal for Cochise County and much of Southern Arizona.

"All wild honeybees in Arizona are now Africanized," Booth says. "It's a done deal. And with the average hive containing 40,000 to 60,000 bees, they're not something to mess with. When I show up, I let everybody know I plan to make this as uninteresting as possible. It doesn't always work out that way, but that's the goal."

"Killer bees" is the headline-grabbing nickname for a human-designed species of honeybee. In 1956, large and more aggressive African bees were taken to Brazil so that scientists there could breed them with European honeybees to create a bee better adapted to tropical climes. Anyone who's ever seen a science-fiction movie can probably guess what happened next: In 1957, some of the African bees escaped and began breeding with the locals. Hybrid Africanized honeybees have been making their way north ever since, arriving in Arizona in 1993.

The sting of the Africanized bee is no more potent than your garden-variety honeybee, but their tough-guy attitude makes them more dangerous. They're the gangsters of the bee world, more easily provoked and quick to swarm. They attack in greater numbers and pursue their victims for greater distances.

"Each hive has guard bees," Booth says. "Their only job is to protect the hive. Once they decide you're a threat, they'll sting you, then pheromones kick in and they all want to sting you, so they come pouring out. It feels like hail when a swarm is bouncing off my bee suit, and I can smell the venom in the air."

Over the years, Booth has gained a reputation for the careful removal of the hives, relocating them to a safe environment whenever possible. Pretty soon, Booth was collecting so much honey that he began bottling and selling his own brands. Killer Bee Honey, a high-desert wildflower blend, was the first and remains the most popular. Then, he began producing honey butters and honey-based mustards, both whole seed and smooth. They're all-natural and the flavors range from roasted garlic to chipotle to Radical Raspberry, perfect for grilling or marinades.

In 1997, Booth opened the Killer Bee Guy Store. The sliver of a building, a mere 175 square feet in size, is tucked between galleries in downtown Bisbee. The store always has an array of free samples, with pretzels on hand for dipping. As a chef, Booth takes great pride in the vibrant flavors of all his products.

Besides its taste, honey is one of nature's superfoods, with a long list of health benefits. Honey offers antiseptic, antioxidant and cleansing properties for our bodies, and many people believe that eating local honey relieves allergies by working much the same as allergy shots. Also, honey aids in digestion, provides an immediate energy boost and is used to treat everything from minor burns to sore throats to arthritis.

"It's something everyone should try," Booth says. "It's good for your stinger."

Booth gained a measure of notoriety in 1998, after one of the worst recorded stinging incidents. On that particular day, someone decided to spray a can of Raid on a beehive that had been around as long as anyone could remember in the Brewery Gulch neighborhood of Bisbee.
Within seconds, bees boiled over from the hive and assailed everyone in the vicinity. People ran through town covered in bees; cars jumped onto sidewalks.

"When I got there it looked like a war zone," Booth says. "Cars were parked every which way in the middle of the street, doors open. There was clothing scattered all over the place, blouses, shirts and shoes. And it was eerily silent."

All told, 17 people were stung that day, and eight were hospitalized. Booth sealed off the hive and waged a long battle with the remaining bees. The incident attracted national attention, which ultimately led to the Killer Bee Guy being featured on the History Channel, Discovery Channel and the Food Network.

So, what to do if you're attacked by Africanized bees?

"Cover your head and head for cover," Booth says. "They like to sting the neck and head, so try to protect yourself. The main thing is get out of there fast. And no zigzagging around — run in a straight line. If you do get stung, don't pinch the stinger to pull it out. That will inject more venom. Scrape it off."

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