SAN BENITO, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Beekeeper Walter Schumacher is a bit of a TV celebrity — but only as “a bee-lister,” he quips.
Known as the Bee Czar, several bees seemed to follow Schumacher on Friday at the San Benito Wetlands, landing on his body “because I smell like them,” a mix of smoke and honey.
Local officials called upon Schumacher and his nonprofit American Honey Bee Protection Agency to help remove and relocate a colony of tens of thousands of honey bees at the wetlands, where some of the bees stung a San Benito Parks and Recreation worker several times as he was cutting grass weeks ago.
“This is the first time we’ve had an encounter with [the bees]. This is the first time we’ve seen them out here,” said Raymond Hernandez, supervisor with San Benito Parks and Recreation. “He got stung quite a few times, around his head. He said [it was] around the sides.”
The whirling blades of the maintenance equipment thundering above the hive must have seemed like a tornado or an invasion to the bees, Schumacher said.
Hernandez said the man covered his face with a hat as he got away.
With the wetlands open to the upcoming Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival for the first time, city officials wanted to make the area safe for birders.
Jaime Flores, of the Texas Water Resource Institute, and the man who helped design the wetlands project with the city, immediately contacted Schumacher to help move the bees away because they worried birders might stumble upon the bee hive on accident.
“We’ve been trying to set this up for a couple weeks to do the bee removal,” Flores said. “But the bees were under a concrete slab so we needed some help from the city to bring a tractor out here to be able to lift that slab to have access to the bee hive, itself.”
The Bee Czar stars in a Discovery series by the same name, which has aired a single season but has a second season in the works, according to Schumacher said.
His t-shirt is emblazoned with a motto—”Bee the Tree”—which is the strategy he employs to avoid stings. Bees are alerted by human movement because motions pose a danger to them and their hive, but then again, bees don’t sting trees, which move constantly under stiff wind.
“The trees aren’t afraid of getting stung,” he said.
And neither is Schumacher, who calmly held bees and worked Friday without a bee suit to relocate combs of the hive. Tens of thousands of bees stormed around his hands, arms and face. Snatching a bee doesn’t seem unusual to this king of bees.
“Because a lot of times you have to just reach in and grab the queen if you see her because then it makes everything easy,” Schumacher said. “If you reach out and grab the queen and put her in your box, then all the other bees are just gonna go there. They will abandon the hive immediately to go to their queen.
“You have to have that knowledge or you shouldn’t be out here.”
He lives in three places— Mexico, Brownsville and Austin — rotating his life between the Valley, Hill County and south of the border. He grows coffee and raises bees to sell honey.
“Bees cannot pay their own rent but they can make honey to sell to pay their rent,” he said.
But it’s “an expensive hobby,” he said.
The origins of the wetland begin in 2008, Flores said, as part of a larger water treatment project. The area is surrounded by plants that the bees love.
Schumacher happily pointed out huisache and other flowering plants.
“Not only do [the bees] need this area, but this area needs them to survive,” Schumaker said, “which is why it’s really cool that we’re going to work with the city of San Benito and the people who are the benefactors of this wetland.”