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Dear Matthew Alice:

Help! The annual invasion of the bumblebees is in full swing here. I know they don't bother most people, but I'm the type who freaks out, swinging a trashy novel at them (direct hits don't even faze them). Is there something one can spray on plants around the house to keep them away? I'm ready to hook up Raid to a firehouse.

Ursula Kennedy Roberts

Tsk, tsk, Ursula. Freaking out and flappan old Judith Krantz paperback at them is one of the most counterproductive things you can do (aside from reading Krantz in the first place, of course). And I refuse to recommend chemical warfare. Let's calm down now and take it from the top.

Do the bees hover around you while you're lounging in your back yard reading those trashy novels? If so, we ask, are you wearing perfume? Suntan oil? Other scented products? Well, go inside and wash it off (with unscented soap), and the bees will go away. They can't see worth a darn but can distinguish among the scents of at least 700 flowering plants. Bees follow their noses (actually, their antennae) to locate things that smell like flowers. If you've tricked them into thinking you're a gardenia, you have no one but yourself to blame. Definitely get rid of anything that smells like ripe bananas. This odor is close to a natural scent emitted by angry honeybees. It attracts others and makes them very edgy and defensive.

Do you have a bottlebrush tree in your yard? Camelias, jasmine, other heavily scented plants? Get rid of those bee magnets. Tearing them out is probably better than watching them die slowly from a bath in Raid. Do you have a pool in your yard? Fill it with cement; water attracts bees.

If you still find yourself confronted by bees, don't flap your arms and brandish books. This just riles them up and makes yo a more likely target. All the experts recommend staying very still! If you want to reduce your chances of being stung. Your trashy novels don't faze bees because you're hitting a creature with its skeleton on the outside, protecting all the vulnerable parts. And to clear up a common misconception, bumblebees and wasps have smooth stingers and can sting more than once without dying. Only the honeybee, with its barbed stinger that gets stuck in your skin, bits the big one when it gets you.

Bees and wasps are fascinating creatures, Ursula. Unless you are one of the few people for whom the stings are life-threatening, you might try learning something about their very complex behaviour, and perhaps they won't seem so fearsome.

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