Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized honey bees, commonly known as killer bees, are almost impossible to distinguish from European honey bees. Africanized bees are slightly smaller than European bees, but are much more aggressive in defending their hives.

MOODY — Bell County bee removal experts explained Tuesday why a Moody man died last week after a swarm of bees attacked him while he mowed.

Edward Charles “Ed” Hohhertz, 66, was at a home in the 700 block of Second Street when the bees attacked him Friday. His wife, Nancy Hohhertz, found him but had to run away because the bees were very aggressive.

Those who first responded to the scene couldn’t help Hohhertz because of the swarm’s size.

Moody Fire Chief Mike Alton said Hohhertz was mowing in a vacant yard when the bees swarmed and attacked him. Hohhertz was extremely allergic to bees, Alton was told.

Moody firefighters aren’t very familiar with dealing with bees, so they waited until those with suits arrived before they could check Hohhertz’s condition, Alton said. By that time, it was too late.

Bee removal experts

James Leland Johnson does lots of removals from residences and business, he said. Johnson is a professional bee remover, and he explained that bees don’t like lawn mowers and weed eaters. The queen produces a pheromone to attack, and thousands of bees can become involved in the attack, he said.

Officials think the bees were disturbed by the sounds of the lawn mower and flew out through a hole in the home’s wall.

A swarm can include 60,000 to 80,000 bees, according to Johnson.

Johnson recalled one man who was stung, and local hospital staff stopped counting after 2,400 stings. He said the man survived the attack.

Hohhertz mainly did outdoor maintenance and yard work to support his family, but he spent a lot of time with his family and friends, fishing and gardening, according to his obituary from Dossman Funeral Home in Belton.

Typically, lawn mowers are really aggravating to bees because the motor noise irritates them, as does debris thrown from the lawn mower that hits the hive.

“Every bee that can will come out to attack,” Lynn Skaggs, who professionally removes bees in McLennan and Coryell counties, said.

Previous bee attacks

A 20-year-old man was swarmed and attacked in September 2016 in Moody by bees while mowing, a Telegram article said. He was mowing near an abandoned mobile home when the bees came out from underneath it and attacked him. Altogether, the man had about 20 to 25 stings on his face and body. He was taken to the hospital and expected to be OK afterward.

An Axtell man wasn’t as lucky on Aug. 23, 2016, when he went into cardiac arrest after he was stung many times while mowing his yard.

An Africanized strain of bees is located in Moody.

“Moody bees are mean bees,” Skaggs said.

There are strong colonies of Africanized bees in this area, he said. He has responded to between two to five bee calls per day since January, Johnson said.

Honey bees can swarm, too, but they’re not aggressive like Africanized bees, Johnson said.

“Get out of the area if you’re even stung just one time because, before you know it, you can’t get away from the bees,” Johnson said.

He recommended putting a T-shirt or something similar over your head and run. At least the bees can’t enter a person’s nose, mouth or ears and cause anaphylactic shock. Johnson also recommended keeping an EpiPen.

Temple Fire & Rescue does not have beekeeper suits, spokesman Thomas Pechal said.

The department responded to three calls in May 2019, but he didn’t know if any citizens or fighters were stung or injured, Pechal said.

“If the bees are not aggressive, we encourage people to contact a beekeeper to arrange for removal of the bees.  If bees are aggressive, they should call 911,” Pechal added.

Removing hives

The Moody Police Department and Moody Volunteer Fire Department were helped during the recent bee attack by deputies from the McLennan County Sheriff’s office.

The bee expert found the hive inside a closet in the empty house with a hot water heater, he said. It took the expert about 30 minutes to locate and remove the hive. The expert told Alton the bees were still very, very aggressive when he arrived.

Firefighters from the McGregor Volunteer Fire Department had suits to help protect them from stings and moved Hohhertz out of the yard. They were also stung, even with the suits.

It took a beekeeper to remove the swarm that was found inside the vacant home.

Called to the scene to pronounce Hohhertz dead was McLennan County Justice of the Peace Brian Richardson.

Services for Hohhertz are at 10 a.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church of Moody.