A man walks deep into the Florida woods, afraid, anxious, and armed with a video camera. He's wearing two sting suits, a vinyl jacket, and leather gloves reinforced with duct tape to ensure that millions of yellow jackets don't crawl up his pant legs or onto his arms, potentially killing him. He knows that only about 250 stings can take down a grown man.
Although Jonathan Simkins has been working in the bee business for 18 years, he's never had to deal with anything this potentially deadly. His footage, which recently appeared on a Central Florida NBC news affiliate, looks like a cross between The Blair Witch Project and My Girl.
Although he wouldn't give New Times the exact location of the property, Simkins recently received a call about a seriously hellacious hive. Because it was in a remote area of Central Florida, the hive had three to five years to become the mammoth death trap it was when he was sent to dispose of it. "They noticed it before, but it just got to a point where it had to be taken care of," Simkins said of the customers who made the call to All Florida Bee Removal. "In the third or fourth year, it exponentially grew to the point that it had thousands of queens."
Simkins, who is 48 and holds a degree in entomology from the University of Florida, originally wanted to start a pest control business. The business was tough to break into, so he began with the stinging insects he grew up with on a farm in Kentucky. His wife told him: "You studied bees, so let's go kill some bees and build up the business."
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They make bee suits that are virtually impenetrable, although Simkins said he didn't have one on him at the time. He was stung seven times on his face when the yellow jackets squeezed through tiny holes in his veil. Getting stung is part of Simkins job description. "It ranges from zero to ten times a day," he said, noting that that the yellow jacket is second to only the African killer bee in terms of danger posed to humans.
"I'm getting ready to do another nest of this magnitude," he said. "For some reason, they're starting to pop up." To get his next terror-hive, he'll have to go 20 feet into the air to attack it from a cherry picker. Simkins' anecdotes suggest a recent proliferation of yellow jackets, at least in Florida. In contrast, honey bees have been dying in massive amounts since late 2006. The recent discovery of 25,000 dead bumblebees in an Oregon parking lot is one such example of what scientists are calling colony collapse disorder.
Simkins said he was terrified when the yellow jackets began vacating their hive. He started to panic as he ran 30 yards, with the bees trailing behind seeking vengeance. Finally he stopped and spoke into the camera. "There was so much going on in my mind, so much adrenaline, that when I spoke, initially it sounded like I was speaking in tongues." Still, the challenge excites him. "I just had to take care of this nest," he said. "I even reduced my price so I could get it."