The Buzz About Africanized Bees Proves Mostly Bad Publicity

Mrs. Elisabeth Smith of Sun City Center, Fla., asks, "Whatever happened to African bees?"

Killer bees, known for defending their home by attacking trespassers in swarms, caused quite a buzz in the 1970s and '80s with the threat of an imminent United States invasion - even spawning the low-budget disaster movies "The Swarm" and "The Bees" in 1978. But Africanized bees have been living in the Southwest since 1990 without major incident.

Eric Mussen, extension apiculturist at the University of California at Davis, says people are aware to steer clear of the bees and so avoid confrontations. Just recently, a "killer" bee incident was reported in California when tree trimmers were stung by bees that had nested in the tree they were pruning. But despite their bad press, there have been no human or livestock deaths attributed to Africanized bees in the US. A 1994 article in U.S. News and World Report says people are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by Africanized bees.

Mr. Mussen says they won't spread throughout the US because the Africanized bee is a tropical insect and doesn't do well in temperate areas. So far there have been 32 finds of Africanized bees..

The Africanized bee arrived in the Western Hemisphere in 1956, when geneticist Warwick Kerr took 75 African queen bees to an apiary near Rio Claro, Brazil, with the intent to cross breed them with European bees. Africanized bees were known for producing a lot of honey and thriving during rough conditions.

After 26 colonies were accidentally let loose in 1957, the bees spread throughout South and North America, traveling 100 to 200 miles per year.

Mussen says the behavior of pure Africanized bees hasn't changed a lot, but they are inbreeding with the European bee - developing a larger, more aggressive hybrid population that is negatively affecting bee colonies in Texas.

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