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Bee-All, End-All Business : Laguna Beach Man Likes Risky Side of Insect Wrangling

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With dozens of black and gold honeybees staging an air dance around his head, David Marder took a hammer to a wall, behind which another 50,000 or so bees nuzzled a honey-soaked hive.

With preliminary holes to peek through the wall and the hum of the bees growing louder, the self-proclaimed “bee buster” stopped to slip on elbow-length gloves.

“I’m going to test their aggressiveness now,” said Marder, 31, who evicts unwanted bees, wasps and hornets across Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Making a last upward tug at the zipper of his protective coveralls, Marder slammed the hammer into the wall.

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“It seems kind of brutal just to pop a hole in somebody’s house, but that’s all you can do,” he said.

As he pounded away, stucco chips flew past his perspiring face. He hiked up a pant leg and flicked a bee from his calf, then continued hammering and prying until the hole was almost three feet in diameter. Finally, he reached into the singing wall and extracted a flat slice of a hive, alive with bees.

“That’s a nice little colony, huh?” said Marder, watching in fascination, as if he did not perform such tasks daily. “That’s one thing I’ve got over everybody else--I love my job.”

It is obvious that Marder is smitten by bees. The Laguna Beach resident keeps 400 hives of his own at various locations in two counties, selling their honey and wax.

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Outside a Laguna Beach bakery before an early morning job, Marder talked bees.

“I know this might sound sort of corny, but they have real harmony with everything around them,” he said. “And I admire their work ethic. They never stop, never fail.”

Marder said that although he was once stung “hundreds of times” on a single job, he has no fear. In fact, the riskier the assignment, the better he likes it.

Once, he rode a motorized chair on a wire cable up the outside of Orange County’s Performing Arts Center to snatch a bee-infested honeycomb from inside a wall. The task became even more dicey when his glove kept catching as he reached for the buzzing hive.

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“I had to take my glove off and reach in there barehanded and try to pull out the honeycomb, 12 stories up,” he said. “I live for those kinds of jobs.”

Above all, according to Marder, a beekeeper must stay cool. “You can’t be swatting at bees on a 40-foot ladder.”

Sometimes, his work requires staggering aplomb.

Once, in the city of Orange, Marder stood talking with a woman near a swarm of bees when one flew past his tongue and stung the roof of his mouth.

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“I just had to stand there and keep my composure,” he said. The woman said, “ ‘Do you want an ice cube?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that would be great.’ ”

When something does get under his skin, Marder said, it’s usually a human being, not an insect.

“It’s the people that are nerve-racking,” he said. “Everybody’s got a bee emergency, and it’s right now.”

With hives flourishing this year, partly due to earlier rains, Marder said he has been putting in 14-hour days. In addition to snatching hives and lassoing swarms, he recently began training Santa Ana police and firefighters to deal with the much heralded Africanized honeybees.

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Nicknamed “killer bees” because they attack quickly and in large numbers, the insects are due to arrive in Orange County as early as 1995.

Santa Ana’s animal control supervisor, John Riles, said public safety workers in his city want to learn how to work with the Africanized honeybees before they arrive. Already, he said, his office gets many calls about bees, hornets and wasps.

“It’s a good experience for us to have,” Riles said. “As soon as the public awareness grows (about the Africanized honeybee), and the fears grow with it, we’re going to have to do something to quell that fear.”

Marder said he will teach city workers how to suit up and rescue someone under attack and how to destroy the bees. Still, he fears the insects are getting a bad rap.

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“There’s a lot of hysteria about the Africanized bees,” he said. “The Africans dealt with those bees for hundreds of years. Why can’t we?”

In November, Marder said he will travel to Panama to further study the insects. He dreads the day he will be called into battle against them.

“That’s a real bummer,” he said. “It’s going to be a whole different feeling, killing the swarms of bees.”

In dealing with European bees common to this area, Marder said he tries to capture the queen bee and relocate her colony.

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For example, the bees he retrieved from the wall in Laguna Beach this week will be offered to a San Clemente man who wants to set up a hive in his back yard for his 8-year-old son, Marder said.

As he wrapped up that job, removing his net draped helmet and stripping off honey-drenched gloves, Marder’s beeper went off, likely signaling another job to add to the eight assignments already on his calendar that day.

“Everybody’s got bees this morning,” he said.


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