Valley Beekeeper Dan Punch Will Gladly Plunge His Hands into a Hive of Africanized Bees — Here’s Why
Dan Punch turns an unexpected passion for pollinators into a buzzworthy business.
Photography by Carl Schultz
The unmistakable buzz of a beehive is typically an unwelcome sound to most. To Dan Punch, however, it is a sound that represents a thriving business and a passion for bees and beekeeping. “It’s pure joy when I work my hives,” he says.
Punch is the only beekeeper who has permission to keep bees at the Desert Botanical Garden, a fact that speaks to his expertise and pedigree as a beekeeper. However, the story of how he got there starts with a simple, personal interest.
His journey began in 2011 when he was laid off from his accounting job and became a stay-at-home dad. He built a vegetable garden with his youngest son and soon realized that the garden wasn’t producing vegetables. He studiously researched and learned that he needed bees to pollinate the plants, which led him to build a bee trap in his backyard.
A bee trap is a small box, baited with lemon grass oil, which attracts a traveling swarm of bees. Punch specifies that “a swarm of bees is looking for a new place to go.” They are not attacking.
After setting up his bee trap and inviting a colony into his backyard, Punch began researching and reading about beekeeping. Soon, he found himself volunteering at Arizona State University’s bee research lab, learning how to keep bees and taking part in research projects. He began doing live-bee removals in the evenings, and after doing 40 for free and more than a year of serving as ASU’s head beekeeper, he started his own venture, Punch Honeybee Co.
What sets Punch apart from most of his beekeeping contemporaries is that he does not shy away from working with Africanized honeybees, which are more aggressive than the common European honeybee. The label originated in 1956, when geneticist Warwick Kerr brought African honeybees to Brazil to breed them with European honeybees in an effort to create a hardier bee—better suited for the tropics and capable of producing far more honey than their more docile and fragile European counterparts. Kerr was successful, and the Africanized bee quickly spread northward. By the time they arrived in Arizona in 1993, the Africanized bee had further evolved and developed into a bee perfectly suited for the climate of the region.
Within four years, Punch grew his company and eventually opened a retail store where he sells honey and beeswax products such as beard and lip balms and candles. In 2019, Punch Honeybee Co. performed 300 live bee removals. This year, Punch is on track to move 100 beehives single-handedly.
What goes into a live bee removal? First, he has to expose the hive. If it’s built under a roof, for instance, Punch removes the roof decking and inverts it so the hive is upside down. Then, using a specially designed vacuum, he captures the bees and relocates them directly into a hive box that is already stocked with honey and young bees from another colony. This makes it more likely that the bees will stay in the box, since they will instinctively care for the young. With the bees ready to move, he seals off the old hive’s location and sterilizes the area to prevent other bees from moving in.
Punch’s passion for bees is apparent in every word he speaks about them. From his encyclopedic knowledge to the products in his store to the hives he keeps throughout the Phoenix area, it’s abundantly clear that he is essentially part of the hive.
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The Buzz About Honeybees
1 Bees have a lifespan of about five weeks. Beekeepers can remove a queen from one colony, introduce it to another, and within five weeks, that queen’s offspring will have completely replaced that of the former queen, changing the genetics of the entire colony.
2 Bees can “create” new queens by building special queen cells and placing larvae inside. These larvae are fed a substance called “royal jelly”—mostly water, protein and sugar—which triggers the larvae to develop into queen bees.
3 When brooding, bees keep their hives at a constant temperature of 92 degrees. In the winter, the insects will cluster together to warm the hive using their body heat. In the summer, they wet the fuzz on their bodies with water and fan their wings to produce an evaporative cooling effect.
4 Bees have poor eyesight in the dark and are sensitive to cold temperatures. Punch suggests that in case of a bee attack, go inside and away from light or get in front of an air-conditioning vent. The darkness or cold air will drive the bees away.
5 Despite widespread media coverage about a decline in honeybee populations, Punch says that he does not detect a change in Africanized bee numbers. “I do see about 17% loss in my European colonies, but I’m not seeing too much of a loss in my African colonies.” According to Punch, European honeybees are susceptible to mites, fungus, the small hive beetle and even viruses, so the use of fungicides, miticides and antibiotics is often necessary. The hardier Africanized bee does not need these treatments, so it thrives more easily.