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Death of Utah beekeeper called 'rare occurrence'

Published May 20, 2014 5:23 pm

Safety • The insects were not the Africanized variety.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The recent death of a female beekeeper who was stung more than 30 times should not deter Utahns from participating in the hobby, professional beekeepers and agriculture officials said Tuesday.

But the death of 31-year-old April Taylor of Willard demonstrates the importance of being educated about the possible risks of keeping bees in the backyard.

"Beekeeping is still encouraged," said Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). "The bee population in Utah is down and we need all the bees we can get to help pollinate trees and plants."

Lewis called Taylor's death "unfortunate" and a "rare occurrence."

On Tuesday, May 13, Taylor was taking care of a beehive in the backyard of her home, when she was stung 30 to 40 times. Her husband Zak Taylor said she had been wearing proper beekeeping gloves and veil and initially seemed fine after being stung.

She went back outside, and when her husband went to check on her, he found her passed out on the ground. She was taken to Ogden Regional Medical Center where she died on Friday, May 16.

Family members believe Taylor may have developed a previously unknown allergic reaction to bee stings.

A graduate of Box Elder High School, Taylor had worked as a licensed hairdresser and was the mother of a young son, according to her obituary. A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, May 21, at Gillies Funeral Chapel, in Brigham City.

Initially, there was concern that the bees that stung Taylor were the aggressive Africanized honey bees. But Lewis said the agriculture department is fairly certain that is these "killer" bees are not in northern Utah.

"Our entomologist is taking samples and will send them to a lab for a definitive answer," he said.

Another possible explanation, which is still being investigated, is that the hive did not have a queen, which can make the other bees agitated.

"When they don't have a queen, they are more aggressive and there's more chaos in the hive," said Gaylon Yack, president of the Utah Beekeepers Association. "She settles everything down."

Yack, who operate the commercial Yack Brothers Honey Company in Vernal, said bees are temperamental and there are many things that can cause them to become aggressive, from warm temperatures to visits from skunks and other predators.

"A lot of people think they can put bees in the backyard and they will take care of themselves, and 9,999 times they aren't going to bother anyone," said Yack, who has been stung 30 to 40 times in a day without problems.

And "there's always the possibility of a reaction."

The UDAF website offers several beekeeping resources for beginners including a downloadable brochure, information about local beekeeping associations and forms to register hives so owners can be notified in case of disease and health problems.

Yack said the interest in beekeeping as a backyard hobby "has probably grown 1,000 percent in the last two or three years" as Utahns become more interested in growing gardens and producing their own food.

Taylor's death "shouldn't discourage people," he said. "But it should make you aware you need to be careful. You need to make sure you're doing it correctly and you are prepared."

kathys@sltrib.com