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Angry Bees Sting Times’ Letter Writers Into Action

July 10, 1985

LONDON (AP) _ Bees, angered by a late, wet spring, have disrupted English life and provoked the longest-running debate of the year in The Times’ revered letters column.

Recently, spectators at a championship cricket match near London saw players suddenly start rolling on the ground, swatting their arms wildly to deal with a nasty swarm.

On the same day, bees occupied the control tower of a Royal Air Force base in Wales for three hours. The air traffic controllers ran for cover, forcing the cancellation of practice bombing runs.

Oxford University entomologist Chris O’Toole told The Associated Press that an unusually late and wet spring this year had made the insects very bad- tempered.

The first indication of trouble came on June 15, when a letter from Lionel Kass of London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb appeared in The Times’ letters-to- the-editor column:

″Sir, I was recently attacked by a swarm of angry bees. I panicked and ran as fast as I could, arms flailing.

″Can one of your readers tell me what would have been the best way to react in these circumstances?″

The newspaper has published responses almost daily since then.

Lord John-Mackie, a member of the House of Lords, recounted the story of a Scottish mailman who had a swarm land on his head and shoulders:

″He walked slowly and quietly down to the river, waded in and gently immersed himself completely. The bees left without a sting.″

John Hatt of Southwest London quoted from a 1957 U.S. Army survival manual: ″Plunge through some dense brush or undergrowth. The twigs springing back into position will beat off the insects.″

John A. Cooper of the village of Clun in western England said Kass’ problem was that he had inadvertently gotten between scout bees and the following swarm.

M.G.H. Rogers of Dorking south of London, recalling that a friend of his had been stung to death in Nigeria, said Kass should have lain on his stomach and covered his face and neck with his shirt.

″These are the most vulnerable parts of the body since bees go for the moisture surrounding the mouth,″ Rogers wrote.

But the most succinct counsel came from R.S. Cookson, one of Kass’ neighbors in North London: ″I think that the best advice one can give Mr. Kass is to buzz off, fast.″

Bee expert O’Toole said there were no more bees around than normal, but that rain had kept the bees inside their nests this year.

When bees cannot go out, the nests heat up, causing larvae to die and accumulate. When conditions become intolerable, the bees go angrily in search of a new home.

When a swarm descends on you, ″the best thing to do is not to panic, because if you start waving your arms about then you’re liable to be badly stung,″ he said.

The panicking alarms the bees, which can then summon reinforcements to deal with the offending human.

O’Toole also ruled out using insecticide sprays, which he said kill some bees but make the rest a lot madder.

O’Toole’s advice: ″Beat a slow and dignified retreat.″

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