Africanized honey bees 101
Twenty years ago, half our pollinated crops were pollinated by native bees and the other half by domesticated bees. Since then a series of pests have wiped out all the native bees, so we now have only the domesticated bees that are protected and managed by beekeepers, or apiculturists for the purists out there.
Beekeepers become a more important factor in putting food in your mouth each year. So, if you have a habit of eating, you want bees around, as well.
One of the first panicky responses from city folk to the threat of Africanized honey bees is to pass an ordinance to prohibit beekeeping in the city limits. The only thing this accomplishes is making it much, much easier for Africanized bees to invade the community. Passing an ordinance to keep beekeeping out does nothing to reduce the number of places Africanized bees can nest. Actually it increases the sites for nesting since managed bees have been kicked out.
Beekeepers are the gatekeepers for bees in your community. Kicking them out will have the exact opposite result from that which was intended. Beekeepers are out there looking for Africanized bees as they work their hives. Beekeepers are your first line of defense.
A more rational response would be to encourage beekeeping by the community – for two reasons. First, a healthy local bee population helps slow down the progress of an Africanized bee invasion. This is because new food sources to support a new colony are scarcer with gentle domesticated bees collecting the bulk of the nectar.
Second, as Africanized bees interbreed with domestic bees, the aggressiveness gets diluted. If we want to reduce the threat from Africanized bees, we need to fill all the niches we can with gentle domestic bees and allow the two strains to interbreed and dilute their aggressiveness along the way.
It is not the single sting that is the problem – because the sting of an Africanized bee is identical to that of a domestic bee. The problem is the aggressiveness of the Africanized bee.
The whole swarm will gang up on whatever creature disturbs them or is even close by. And, yes, it is true: They will follow you – a long way. And wait – for a long time – for you to come back out. Some of the most heartbreaking cases involve a person disturbing a swarm of Africanized bees and a pet dog on a run or in a kennel is stung to death because it cannot get away.
Now for some practical advice for reducing you chance of being stung by Africanized bees. First, clean up junky areas that bees would be attracted to for nesting. Old tires, old armadillo burrows and other holes in the ground provide a protected site. Legally dispose of the tires and backfill the armadillo holes. Abandoned sheds and abandoned bee hive equipment are other favorite nesting sites. This is another thing to watch out for if you go exploring that dilapidated old shack in the woods.
At certain times of the year, domesticated bees will swarm and can be found hanging in a clump on a tree limb or under the eaves of a house. Local beekeepers will often remove these swarms if they can keep the bees. However, Africanized bees often nest in permanently exposed locations.
Whether the exposed nesting made them aggressive or the aggressiveness made exposed nesting tenable is a chicken-and-the-egg question. The point is: From now on be much more careful about swarming bees because they may be an Africanized nest. What used to be a schoolboy prank of throwing a stone at a bee swarm was just stupid. Now it could be lethal, and not just to the adolescent who threw the stone and ran, but also to the pets, toddlers and elderly in the area who cannot evacuate the area as fast.
It is not the same world in which I grew up.
Gardner is the extension agent for Bryan County. He can be reached at dgardner@uga. edu
By Don Gardner
Updated: Nov. 10, 2010 1:40 p. m.