PRESS RELEASE from the Georgia Department of Agriculture
Entomological tests have confirmed that Africanized honeybees were responsible for the death of an elderly man in Dougherty County last week. News reports say the man accidentally disturbed a feral colony of bees with his bulldozer and that he received more than 100 stings.
"This is the first record of Africanized honeybees in Georgia," said Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.
Africanized honeybees are a hybrid of African and European honeybees. Because of their extremely defensive nature regarding their nest (also referred to as a colony or hive), they are sometimes called "killer bees." Large numbers of them sometimes sting people or livestock with little provocation.
The Africanized honeybee and the familiar European honeybee (Georgia's state insect) look the same and their behavior is similar in some respects. Each bee can sting only once, and there is no difference between Africanized honeybee venom and that of a European honeybee. However, Africanized honeybees are less predictable and more defensive than European honeybees. They are more likely to defend a wider area around their nest and respond faster and in greater numbers than European honeybees.
Africanized honeybees first appeared in the U.S. in Texas in 1990. Since then they have spread to New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida and now Georgia. Entomologists and beekeepers have been expecting the arrival of these bees in Georgia for several years. There has been an established breeding population in Florida since 2005.
Because Africanized honeybees look almost identical to European honeybees, the bees from the Dougherty County incident had to be tested to accurately ascertain they were the Africanized strain. The Georgia Department of Agriculture sent samples of the bees to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services which has the capability to do FABIS (fast African bee identification system) testing and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture identification test (the complete morphometrics test) to confirm the bees' identity.
Africanized honeybees are the result of an experiment that went awry in Brazil in the 1950s. Researchers were trying to create a honeybee better suited to tropic conditions. A few of the African bees escaped and began hybridizing with European honeybees. The hybrid "Africanized" honeybees (so named because they get their extremely defensive nature from the African honeybee) began colonizing South America and Central America, then Mexico and the U.S.
"Georgia beekeepers are our first and best line of defense against these invaders. They are the ones who will be able to monitor and detect any changes in bee activity," said Commissioner Irvin.
"The Georgia Department of Agriculture is going to continue its trapping and monitoring of bee swarms to try to find where any Africanized honeybees are," said Commissioner Irvin. "We also want to educate people about what to do in case they encounter a colony of Africanized honeybees. Georgians can visit our website for more information. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service has a publication on Africanized honeybees that is available online (http://pubsadmin.caes.uga.edu/files/pdf/B%201290_2.PDF) or at Extension offices."
Here is more information from the Georgia Department of Agriculture:
Possible nest sites may include empty boxes, cans, buckets, or other containers; old tires; infrequently used vehicles; lumber piles; holes and cavities in fences, trees, or the ground; sheds, garages and other outbuildings; and low decks or spaces under buildings.
As a general rule, stay away from all honeybee swarms and colonies. If bees are encountered, get away quickly. Do not stand and swat as this will only invite more stings. If you are stung, try to protect your face and eyes as much as possible and run away from the area. Take shelter in a car or building, and do not worry if a few bees follow you inside. It is better to have a few in the car with you than the thousands waiting outside. Hiding in water or thick brush does not offer enough protection.
What to Do if Stung
Hives of European honeybees managed by beekeepers play an important role in our lives. These bees are necessary for the pollination of many crops. One-third of our diet relies on honeybee pollination.
People can coexist with the Africanized honeybee by learning about the bee and its habits, supporting beekeeping efforts and taking a few precautions.
| Africanized honey bees swarm more frequently than other honey
| Unlike typical hives that swarm once every 12 months with a new
queen going off with the swarm and the old queen staying behind, Africanized honey bees may swarm as often as every 6 weeks and produce a couple of separate swarms each time.
| Since Africanized honey bees swarm more often, the likelihood of
encountering a swarm increases significantly.
| Africanized honey bees are less selective about where they nest
than European honey bees. They will occupy much smaller spaces than other hives and have found in old tires, overturned flower pots and mailboxes.
| Regardless of myths to the contrary, Africanized honey bees do
not fly out in angry swarms to randomly attack unlucky victims.
| However they defend a much larger territory than European honey
bees and are extremely aggressive when protecting their territory and their brood.
| RUN. Do not stop to help others. However, small children and the
disabled may need assistance.
| As you are running, pull your shirt over your head to protect
your face, but make sure it does not slow your progress. This will help keep the bees from targeting your head and eyes.
| Continue to RUN. Do not stop running until you reach shelter.
| Do not jump into water. The bees will wait for you to come up
| If you are trapped, cover up with blankets, sleeping bags,
clothes or whatever is available.
| Do not swat at the bees or flail your arms. Bees are attracted
to movement and crushed bees produce a smell that will attract more bees.
| If you have been stung more than 15 times, or are feeling ill,
or if you have any reason to believe you may be allergic to bee stings, seek medical attention immediately.
| The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of
body weight. This means that although 500 stings can kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1,100 stings.
When you reach shelter
| When you reach shelter or have outrun the bees, remove all
stingers. When honey bees sting, it leaves its stinger in the skin. This kills the bee so it can't sting again, but it also means the venom continues to enter the wound for a short time.
| DO NOT PULL OUT STINGERS WITH TWEEZERS OR YOUR FINGERS. This
will squeeze more venom into the wound. Instead, scrape the stinger out using your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other straight-edged object.
If you see someone being attacked by bees
| Do not attempt to rescue someone being attacked by bees
| Encourage them to run away or seek shelter.
| Call 911 to report a serious stinging attack.