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updated: 10/2/2011 8:53 AM

Reader complaints provide valuable lesson: Bee careful

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IRRESPONSIBLE REPORTING ...

... was the upsized, uppercased heading above the missive from a reader unhappy with our mistreatment of the beloved honey bees.

When I say "beloved," that's with no sarcasm intended. Our reference to "bee stings" as the possible cause of the tragic death of Bruce Madiar of Roselle last week stirred up a hornet's nest of complaints.

"The honeybee is in enough trouble today without having irresponsible and misleading articles given prominent publicity in a respected local paper," the letter writer said.

The bottom line -- though we were told by Cook County coroner officials and Roselle police "bee stings" were the likely cause of Madiar's death -- is that we upset many bee lovers who told us it was far more likely the fatal stings were delivered by wasps or hornets.

I hope we haven't lost perspective of what's more important here -- loss of a human life -- but if there's one thing I've learned in 30-odd years in this business, it is that our friends in the animal and even insect kingdoms often draw passionate defenders those of us in humankind can only envy. (A pretty good example can be found on this same page, in which a writer to our Fence Post column makes a passionate plea that a public testing for tuberculosis of three circus elephants in Warrenville should not have been the whimsical event we made it out to be.)

And I also should quickly point out that some of the people who complained did so without all the venom, and this turned into a nice learning experience. To wit, the reporter of the story, Elisabeth Mistretta, received a firm, but cordial note from David Bergman, president of the Lake County Beekeepers Association. He suggested that placing blame for all stings on "bees" creates an unnecessary fear among the public toward the honeybee, which pollinates many flowers and plants.

"The honeybee is a gentle nectar collector that does not sting unless threatened with its own death, or to protect her hive," he wrote. "The public almost never interacts with honeybees unless they are among the flowers."

Bergman also noted that he wasn't surprised that some bee fans were a bit hostile but added, "You would think beekeepers would know honey is better than vinegar."

Another semiregular emailer gently chided me about our first-day coverage:

"Jim, Jim, Jim ...

Poor bees. Always taking the blame for wasps' misdeeds. It's heartbreaking. Bees don't build nests in the ground, yellow-jackets (who are wasps) do. Bees generally only sting to protect the hive; wasps are more aggressive ... Plus bees make that delicious honey that is so very good for you in its natural, raw form. Not to mention that they (the good bees) are necessary to pollinate a huge proportion of what we eat."

Lessons learned.

In her follow-up story, Beth was careful to note that Madiar died trying to clear "an insect hive" from his property and that he suffered multiple "stings from bees, wasps or hornets." It also should be pointed out that Beth's initial story took the time to address the bee's agricultural usefulness. And for our online readers, she included links to other research that explains the difference between bees, wasps and hornets.

Believe me, the last thing we want to do is inaccurately malign the honeybee. In fact, Beth is in pursuit of another story that will attempt to document whether honeybees' decreasing numbers are adversely affecting this season's pumpkin crop.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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