Killer Bees are on the move - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Killer Bees are on the move

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November 14, 2006

Albany -- Africanized bees, also known as killer bees, are headed to Georgia. They arrived in the United States 16 years ago and now, they're in seven states, including Florida. Experts say it's just a matter of time until the aggressive bees arrive here. That's why they're working now to make sure we're ready.    

Killer bees are similar in appearance to honey bees, but that's where the similarities stop. "Instead of 10 or 12 bees coming after you, 100 will come after you," says beekeeper Dale Richter. They are aggressive, easily agitated and will chase you for up to a quarter of a mile.

As a beekeeper, Dale Richter is learning as much as he can about them because, "It's a real potential for them to be here."

Africanized honey bees first showed up in Texas in 1990, and they're slowly working their way across our country. And while experts first thought they'd reach us from the west, that's changed. "A few 100 miles south of Valdosta. They're in Florida," Says  Richter.

They apparently hitched a ride on cargo ships that docked to our south in Florida.  Their presence in that state was documented in 2002. Nineteen counties in Florida are now home to killer bees. "The public won't meet them as much as farmers and public safety workers."

That's why protective bee suits were donated to the Lee County Fire Chief this week. Joe Pollack and other emergency workers will likely be the ones who have to face off against the bees.

 "They would call 911 and we'll be the ones to go out and respond," Pollack says.

That's why training is going on around Georgia to educate public safety workers.  One such meeting was held in March in Lee County. "What we learned is that we don't have them in this area yet and hopefully, it'll be years before we do," said Pollack.

But when the time comes, they'll be ready. "We have the gear, the water sprayers, fire hoses and we'll be the first line of defense," said Pollack.

So what's your best defense if you come in contact with killer bees? "The best thing you can do is run. They will chase you down. So remove yourself from them," Richter said.

If you're a farmer who happens upon them in the field, Richter says turn off your tractor and get away. Run as far as you can and seek shelter inside a building or vehicle.  The good news is that they are slow fliers, and most healthy people can outrun them.  

But if you can't, how dangerous are their stings? Their venom is actually less potent than normal bees'. The danger is in the number of times you'll be stung.  While each bee can only deliver one sting, they usually attack in large numbers. Healthy adults have been known to survive hundreds of stings.

People who aren't allergic to bee stings can expect pain and swelling. Those who are allergic could go into anaphylactic shock and die.  Faced with something so menacing, entomologists are looking for ways to lessen the threat. They're catching the bees and injecting European honey bee sperm into the Africanized queens and releasing them.

They hope to eventually produce less aggressive bees and pass the gene to the offspring.  Not only are the killer bees a threat to people and animals, the beekeeping industry is worried. The Africanized bees will attack honey bees and take over their hives which, of course, would hurt the honey industry.

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