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Wednesday, 14 March 2007 00:00

Countdown to killer bees

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With the Africanized honeybee now established in Florida, experts say it is only a matter of time before the so-called “killer bee” is introduced into this state.

 

The Africanized honeybee entered Florida via that state’s deep-sea ports, said David A. Westervelt, an apiary inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The Africanized honeybee reacts more defensively than its European counterpart. It, too, stings just one time before dying. But more Africanized honeybees join in an attack than is the case with European honeybees, resulting in 10 times as many stings.

Fourteen people in the United States have been killed after encountering Africanized honeybees, and there have been hundreds of non-fatal attacks since the bees first entered Texas in 1990. There have been no fatalities in Florida.

Westervelt said he believes the Africanized honeybee would have a difficult time surviving in Western North Carolina, though some scientists have speculated the Africanized honeybee can adapt to a variety of conditions.

“I don’t think the mountain area will have to worry too much about them,” Westervelt said. “They don’t tolerate the cold very well.”

Tom Webster, a bee researcher at Kentucky State University, agreed. He said any adaptation would “be a long way off.”

Statewide, scientists remain alert to the likelihood of the Africanized honeybees’ arrival. Scientists at N.C. State last year used morphological and genetic screening techniques to test bee colonies, and found that none yet were of African origin.

Africanized honeybees are the result of a breeding program gone awry. Aggressive African honeybees were bred with European honeybees in a Brazil breeding program to create a better bee for tropical conditions.

In 1957, 26 of the African queen bees escaped into the wild. They quickly became established, then expanded into South America and Central America before moving into Texas.

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