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May 17, 2000

ALONG THE WAY: Killer Bees


The honeybee was introduced to North America by European settlers hundreds of years ago. Since then it has been a valued partner pollinating our crops and providing us with honey. For those of us who love the outdoors they have also been a source of entertainment. Just watching them diligently going about their task can be a pleasant distraction. But in 1990 a new kid arrived on the block and nothing will ever be the same again.

Although attempts have been made to educate the public about Killer Bees most people have gotten their information from bad B movies. Get it? Bee movies?  Sorry. Well, I wanted to know some more accurate information so Idecided to visit the Department of Agriculture to get the straight scoop.

Since the Department of Agriculture has traditionally given out permits to beekeepers it has fallen to them to deal with the Killer bee problem.

David Bert ... I guess the first question I should ask is what are killer bees and how that they differ from the bee that we've grown up with?

Gina Stoneking...killer bees are actually honeybees, and that really surprises a lot of people. They think that killer bees are really big horrible ugly looking things, but they're actually honeybees and they actually produce honey and they pollinate our flowers and our gardens. They're just a more defensive honeybee.

David Bert ...Ahh, so it's not necessarily more aggressive its just more defensive?

Gina Stoneking... Right. It doesn't have the aggressive behavior. It's just more defensive of its brood and it's a honey that it's put so much energy into.

David Bert ... so I guess where we've heard the word aggressive is that they aggressively defend and that's the point. As long as we're staying away from their hive were pretty much OK?

Gina Stoneking ... Right. If you leave them alone they'll leave you alone.

David Bert ... OK. So, let's say I accidentally stepped to their territory. Or squash a bee by mistake. They're coming after me. What do I do?

Gina Stoneking ... Well if you're around a hive and you accidentally disturbed that hive you want to leave that area immediately. You don't one hang around. Those hives are real defensive and the will intensively defend themselves. Normally, a European honeybee hive you can avoid real easily. And an accidental disturbance didn't result in too many stings. But with these Africanized bees an accidental disturbance can result in thousands of bees being really angry so leaving that area is the best thing to do.

David Bert ... You make it sound very polite, but leaving the area means runaway.

Gina Stoneking ... Run away from that hive yes

David Bert ... Very fast and as far away as it takes until they stop flying after you.

Gina Stoneking ... Right they are fairly slow fliers. They will not out fly you, but they do defended territory. So that's a good thing. You can outrun their territory.

David Bert ... OK, I read that to if I'm being chased I need to pull my shirt up over my head. Why is that?

Gina Stoneking ... The Africanized bee has developed the ability to detect the carbon dioxide that a person or animal releases from their eyes and nose and mouth. So that is also the most vulnerable area. So covering your face is the best idea to avoid getting so many stings.

David Bert ... So, run, pull my shirt up over my head, and keep running. Now when I was a kid they told us that we should jump into a lake. No, huh?

Gina Stoneking ... No, they can track where you go, so if you jump in the lake and go underwater you'll have to come up for air and the Africanized bees will be there waiting for you. So that's really not the best thing to do. You want to leave the area. Because if you jump in the water, you're kinda stuck there and trapped there.

David Bert ... In fact didn't one gentleman die drowning because he couldn't get out of the water.

Gina Stoneking... Yeah, I think that was the case.

David Bert ... This little conversation is going to bring up far more questions than it's going to answer for the public. How can they go about finding more detailed information?

Gina Stoneking ... Well anybody who wants more information is more than welcome to call the Nevada Department of Agriculture and they can ask for me, Gina Stoneking. Our number is 486-4690. There's also different Web siteaddresses to look up. Texas A&M is one of them. Arizona also has some excellent Web sites with information. I wouldn't believe everything you see on the Internet but those specific University Web sites are wonderful.

David Bert ... Africanized honeybees are here to stay. There's no getting around it, but here in the southwest we've successfully coexisted with far more dangerous critters than bees. So it's best to just accept it and do everything you can to educate yourself about them. The truth is that bees are still our partners. So if you want to worry about something worry about the fact that you're three times more likely to be hit by lightening that you are to die from a bee attack.

See discussion rules.


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