Willie Sklaroff keeps a busy, noisy house.
In his home office in Aventura, three of his 18 cats clamor among the tables, scratching posts and windowsills, while two caged cockatiels punctuate the air with a running commentary.
Meanwhile, his many phones light up with the relentlessness of the Congressional switchboard: He has three in his office, two in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom. An incoming call triggers a chorus of chimes throughout the house. All of his business numbers—he purchased separate lines for Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, plus a Spanish-language line—route directly to Sklaroff. It’s a hectic time for the tri-county area’s most famous bee removal specialist.
Known as Willie the Bee Man—if you’ve attended the Wick or Palm Beach Dramaworks, you’ve seen his playbill ads—Sklaroff was working as a kindergarten teacher when he began removing unwanted hives from clients’ houses. Eventually, the income he earned from bee removal superseded his teachers’ salary, and he’s been running his business full-time for the past 15 years. An avuncular advocate for bee education, he speaks to schools about his work and the importance of nature’s pollinators, sometimes dressed in honeybee regalia. For this story, Boca readers are his pupils.
On preserving bees:
We always want to do live removals. That doesn’t always work out, for many reasons. The hives may or may not be healthy. The stress alone sometimes kills the bees. We probably lose 50 percent of the hives that we take out—in transportation, in dying off. I had a beehive out here that seemed to be doing great, and I opened it up to work on it. All the bees were gone. They just got up and left.
On job restrictions:
I will not even try to do a second-story house. You’re cutting things out, you’re on a ladder, honey will drip—it will be dangerous and slippery for the technician.
On preventing the formation of hives:
You could bee-proof your house, which means sealing up every crack or hole that’s an eighth of an inch or bigger. And that’s almost impossible to do. Most people never caulk underneath the flashing on top of their roofs, and there’s always a space between the roof and the boards. How do the bees find these spots? Who knows. Places where bees could go is almost anywhere there’s a void: hollows of trees, of telephone poles, both concrete and wood ones. They can go into cinder blocks, holes next to pipes, even electrical cables.
On honeybee loss:
Because of the media, people are thinking that we’re losing our bees, and they want to save all the bees they can save. This is old history. The new history is that there’s been an increase in bee boxes in the state of Florida—beehives that are commercially rated, that beekeepers send out to pollinate the crops. People started becoming aware of [the problem], and they became beekeepers. The number of hobbyists increased up to almost 5,000 from fewer than 500.
On differences between bees:
Any bee, European or Africanized, could become aggressive at any time. It could be a scent on the person, it can be a vibration of a lawnmower, it can be an engine of a car. European honeybees will only send out four or five, or maybe 10 to 20, bees after a threat. Africanized honeybees will send out hundreds to thousands after you at one time. European honeybees will chase you, but by the time you get to the front yard from the backyard, only one or two are still bothering you. Africanized honeybees are known to follow a quarter mile after you. They’ll hover if you jump into a pool.
On occupational hazards:
Andre, one of our Certified Pest Control Operators, has been stung, I think, 112 times over a 12-year period. I’ve probably been stung that many times in one month. A lot of times I’ll be stung, and by the time I get home, I don’t remember where I got stung.