Found a bee hive? Better leave it to the experts

Found a bee hive? Better leave it to the experts

SINGAPORE - Bee attacks in Singapore are rare, because the insects will attack only when they perceive a threat to their hive, experts said.

They were reacting to news of a coroner's inquiry on Monday into the death of a pest control officer - he had died last November after being stung by bees.

Apart from instances where a hive is deliberately disturbed, such as when sticks and stones are hurled at it, a perceived threat could also take the form of hive displacement caused by a branch snapping or tree falling, experts added.

"The bees perceive that their hive is being threatened by a predator... any vertebrate moving near the nest could be attacked," said Dr John Ascher from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore.

A check of newspaper reports suggests that bee attacks in Singapore are indeed rare: The last reported incident was in December 2012, when eight passengers were attacked by a swarm of bees as they sat on chairlifts over Sentosa.

Then last November, pest control officer Mohammad Sallehen Mohd Ali, 30, died in hospital from bee venom after he was stung multiple times by a swarm of giant honey bees - one of the most dangerous species of honey bees due to their larger size.

He and two colleagues had gone to Sherwood Road in Tanglin on Nov 6 to dispose of a hive found near a fallen tree, discovered by Singapore Land Authority officers.

Insect expert Carl Baptista said Mr Sallehen might have been slow in escaping the insects as he weighed 120kg.

Bee stings could cause death in two ways, said Dr Ascher.

An allergic reaction to bee venom, for instance, could trigger anaphylaxis - a condition with symptoms such as rash and the swelling of the throat. In such cases, even one sting could lead to death.

But death could also be caused by mass envenomation - resulting in a dangerous level of toxicity in the victim's body. "The amount of venom in the body becomes too much for the system," said Dr Ascher.

Experts advise the public to avoid handling bee hives without professional help.

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, 50, said: "If the hive is in the natural area, it is best to leave it as bees are important for the ecosystem.

"But if it's in an urban area, professional help should be sought."

audreyt@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 1 in The Straits Times.

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