By Lindsay Carey
State entomologists Dr. Kimberly Stoner and Dr. Gale Ridge, from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, gave a presentation to Strong School parents regarding the bee infestation that made it self known last spring.
Stoner and Ridge, who were invited by Southington School Supt. Timothy Connellan, spent time discussing the different kinds of insects that may be habituating the school’s field during a parent information meeting.
The insect experts explained the difference between bees and wasps, as well as which kinds of these species are most likely to be a threat.
The most important distinction that was made is the difference between social and solitary bees and wasps.
According to the entomologists, social bees and wasps will sting in order to defend their nest, while solitary bees and wasps do not sting unless they are trapped in clothing or directly handled.
Stoner also clarified that “digger bees,” which some believe are the type of bees at Strong School, is just another name for ground nesting bees.
Since there were no specimen captured in May and June when the bees were most present, the entomologists were unable to tell parents exactly what kind of bees are nesting in the grounds of the field.
However, Stoner and Ridge believe that they could be one of three kinds of ground nesting bees and each is solitary.
The first specie of bee that it could is Andrenid bees, which are solitary bees that do not have venom. Stoner shared that this group of bees was actually named the “tickle bees” by a school in Portland, Oregon.
Instead of clearing out the infestation of bees in the school field in Oregon, the school used it as an educational opportunity and students are often seeing holding and playing with the bees since they are essentially harmless.
Stoner and Ridge suggested that Strong School follow suit, if they were identified as Andrenid bees.
“This is an educational opportunity to teach children that we can live alongside of them,” said Ridge.
Another bee species that they proposed maybe in the field are Colletes, which are also solitary bees. These bees only sting when they are handled directly.
Stoner also proposed that it could be a bee population that is rarer like the Habropada Labriosa, the Southeastern Bluberry bee. According to Stoner, these bees are also unlikely to sting.
Overall, the entomologists explained that ground nesting bees are typically not perceived to be of significant harm to children, because they are not likely to sting.
Stoner challenged parents of children with bee allergies to know exactly what kind of bee allergy their child has, because according to her, allergies to ground nesting solitary bees are extremely rare and almost non-existent.
Children are typically allergic to honey bees and yellow jackets.
In fact, the cases of children being stung at Strong School last year at Flag Day are believed to have been from yellow jacket wasps, which are social wasps and will sting.
Stoner said that the Board of Education is in compliance with getting rid of whatever yellow jacket wasps are on the school’s property using pesticides.
Assistant Supt. Karen Smith, who was Interim Superintendent at the time, began researching how to resolve the issue and worked with former Director of Operations Fred Cox to try to devise a plan.
However, parents were unaware of this and some took the lack of communication regarding the bees as negligence.
“We learned about this in the spring and we probably should have given you some more information then,” said Board Chairman Brian Goralski. “We have to move forward and come up with a productive plan.”
Ulla Plourde, the parent who brought this concern to the Board of Education’s attention at their last meeting, was in attendance and had questions about the best way to remedy the problem.
Plourde questioned why entomologists would not be able to identify the kind of bees before spring time.
Some parents even suggested digging up the fields to find specimen. However, the experts said that they would be hard pressed to find bees that are now sleeping several feet underground for the colder months.
“They’re not going to do anything now for the next six months other than snooze away in their burrows,” said Ridge. “The chances are these are very quiet, gentle, non-aggressive insects and it will be very easy to do identify them in the spring.”
Even if the bees were identified as non-venomous, some parents were not impressed by the option to let the bees remain in the fields for educational purposes.
Some parents said that they were more concerned about their child’s mental state, because a lot of children have a fear of bees, even if it is irrational because the bees are harmless.
In conclusion, Ridge suggested that there be another parent meeting held in the spring after the species of bee is identified to collectively decide the best way to go about solving the problem.
“We’re going to get information out to you as we obtain it,” assured Superintendent Connellan. “We will work through this problem.”
By Lindsay Carey