Beekeeper Charles Smith of Smith Family Honey Company said he usually pulls a veil over his head for protection when he visits his colony containing millions of bees off Babcock Street.
But the Fellsmere resident said there was no need Thursday, three days after he discovered the colony had been poisoned. State bee inspector Jerry Cruise said he had never seen comparable devastation at a bee colony.
"I'll never get completely compensated for this unless someone handed me 400 beehives," Smith said as he scooped dozens of insect carcasses into his hands. "I lost the bees, the ability to make honey and the ability to sell the bees."
The case is being investigated by state agricultural officials and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. Although Smith has 30 bee sites between Brevard and Palm Beach counties, he lost $150,000 with the death of the bees at the Babcock site and from a couple of other nearby colonies this week.
A few other beekeepers in southern Brevard also reported lost colonies this week, Smith said..
State officials are testing Smith's bees to determine what type of chemicals contributed to their deaths, Smith said. He does not know who is responsible for the colony loss.
Smith keeps dozens of beehives scattered across 30 yards behind a locked gate at the property off Babcock, just south of the Deer Run subdivision. The gate had not been tampered with, Smith said.
Beekeeping has been a resilient business for Smith in the down economy compared to his other ventures, such as roofing. His collection of colonies produces hundreds of barrels of honey a year, he said.
"We have a shortage of bees in the U.S.," Smith said. "It's a niche market. After the economy went down, I got out of construction and returned full-time to beekeeping."
Smith, who has been in the bee business for 30 years, has lost track of the number of times he's been stung by the honey-producing insects. But the sting of this week's loss could linger, he said.
"This is really emotional," he said. "I'm going to try to get this off my mind."
The incident was reported to the Sheriff's Office on Monday, but records officials said the report was not completed Thursday.