Local control company sees increase in their numbers
By Kyle LoJacono
Nio Sanchez has seen an increase in calls about Africanized honeybee hives across Pasco and Hillsborough counties during the last several months.
He works AIM Termite and Pest Control Specialists in Wesley Chapel and said he does not remember their numbers being so high in past years. Sanchez says the Africanized bees are very aggressive and that he has received more calls recently about them.
The bees, sometimes called killer bees because of that aggressive behavior, first appeared in Florida in 2002, according to Jerry Hayes, chief of the apiary section of the Florida Department of Agriculture. They came from ships from Central and South America or Mexico through ports like the Port of Tampa.
“African bees were brought to Brazil in 1957 because the European honeybees that are used to pollinate most of the crops in this country didn’t do well in that tropical environment,” Hayes said. “What happened is the environmental blunder of the century. Some of the queen Africanized bees got out and they spread across all of South and Central America.”
When the African bees cross breed with European bees they became Africanized. It is virtually impossible to tell by sight if a bee is European or Africanized.
James Ellis, assistant professors at the University of Florida’s department of entomology, said if a European nest is disturbed, generally 10 bees repel the intruder. More than 1,000 Africanized ones will respond to the same attack.
“The Africanized bees are actually smaller and have the same type of venom as the European ones,” Ellis said. “They are a problem because they attack in huge numbers and don’t stop.”
Ellis said they are especially a problem because vibrations caused by things like tractors, lawnmowers and power equipment agitate them.
“Once a bee stings something, they release a scent that causes the others to attack,” Ellis said. “The best thing you can do is run and get inside a building because they will chase you.”
Ellis said someone being stung should cover their head and airways because the bees will try and get into the nose and down their throat to continue stinging. Diving in water does not work because the bees will wait until the person comes up for air.
Hayes said the best thing to do to prevent hives from forming in their neighborhood is remove anything that could become their home.
“Holes in sheds or other buildings should be sealed up,” Hayes said. “The Africanized bees will make a home out of any little bit of protection, so removing anything they can turn into a hive is important.”
Hayes said any hive should be reported to a pest control company for eradication.
Hayes added only one person has been killed by the Africanized bees in Florida, which happened two years ago in Kissimmee. Several dogs and small farm animals have also been killed along with a 900-pound horse in Hendry County that had four pounds of bees found in its stomach. The Africanized bees flew into the horse’s stomach to sting it.
“I sometimes have people ask why we should get rid of them and I tell them it’s a public safety issue,” Hayes said. “There aren’t any benefits of having the Africanized bees because our 275,000 colonies of European bees controlled by beekeepers can pollinate all of our crops.”
Hayes said Florida crops that rely on bees for pollination include strawberries, blueberries, avocadoes and watermelons to name a few.
In the early period of the spreading, the Africanized bees’ new range increased by 200-300 miles a year. Hayes said they first reached Texas in 1990. They have since colonized all the Southwestern United States along with Florida.
Hayes said Africanized bees reproduce much faster than European bees. Because of that, Africanized bees form new colonies, or swarm, about 15-16 times a year to a European group’s one to two.
“The Africanized bees come from a place with no winter, so instead of producing a lot of honey they make more bees,” Hayes said.
The spread of the Africanized variety happened right around the time European bees started to die out in the wild because a parasitic mite, the varroa mite, was introduced to North America. The mites affect Africanized bees as well, but Hayes said they have a defensive mechanism to reduce its spread. Instead of breaking off and forming two colonies, when a group is infected, only the clean bees get the signal to swarm.
“The wild population of European honeybees are basically all gone in this country,” Hayes said. “The Africanized bees moved into the void left after the mites wiped out the wild European bees. Any ones left were forced out by the Africanized bees. The only ones left are those of beekeepers.”
Hayes emphasized the point that all bees are not bad and without beekeepers, Florida’s many crops would not grow. He said people should encourage and welcome beekeepers because their European bees do much more good than harm.
– Tammy Sue Struble contributed to this story.