Africanized honeybees arrive in Georgia

  • Published
  • By Ricky Gilbride
  • 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron pest management supervisor
DNA testing has confirmed that Africanized honeybees were responsible for the death of an elderly man in Dougherty County of Southwest Georgia. The victim was clearing land with a bulldozer when he apparently disturbed a nest of Africanized honeybees.
In defense of their nest, a large number of bees flew out and the victim was stung approximately 100 times. This is the first record of Africanized honeybees in Georgia.

In 1956, researchers imported honeybees from Africa into Brazil in an effort to improve beekeeping in the tropics of the Western Hemisphere. These African bees were well-suited to conditions in Brazil and they began colonizing South America, hybridizing with European honeybees (hence the name "Africanized" honeybees) and displacing European bees.

Compared to European bees, Africanized honeybees are much more defensive in protecting their hive. Large numbers of them sometimes sting people and livestock with little provocation.

The bees spread northward and in October 1990, the first natural colony of Africanized honeybees was found in the United States near Hidalgo, Texas. By 2005, populations of Africanized honeybees were established in Florida.

About Africanized honeybees
These bees are very defensive of their nest, which is also referred to as a colony or hive. They can sense a threat from people 50 feet or more from the nest as well as sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from the nest. They respond quickly, sting in large numbers and will pursue a perceived enemy a quarter mile or more.

Africanized honeybees also swarm frequently to establish a new nest. Their nests are located in small cavities and sheltered areas. Possible nest sites include empty boxes, cans, buckets, other containers, old tires, infrequently-used vehicles, lumber piles, holes and cavities in fences, trees or the ground, sheds, garages and other outside buildings, and low decks or spaces under buildings.

Safety precautions
Just as you should look out for fire ants and poisonous snakes, you should stay alert for wild bee colonies.
-Never knowingly approach an occupied bee nest. During daylight hours, bees can be seen flying in and out of their nest.
- Do not disturb a swarm of bees. If removal is necessary, call the Moody Department of Entomology at 229-257-4397.
- Never climb a tree, kick a stump or move trash until you check to see if bees are flying in and out.
- Examine the work area before using lawn mowers and other power equipment.
-Be alert when participating in all outdoor sports and activities.
-Teach children to respect all bees.
- Check with a doctor about bee sting kits and procedures if you're sensitive to bee stings.
- Remove possible nest sites around the home and seal opening larger than 1/8 an inch in walls and around chimneys and plumbing.
- Keep an escape route in mind. Never crawl into an enclosed place from which you cannot quickly escape.
- Operators of open-cab tractors are especially at risk from hidden in-ground colonies. Keeping a veil immediately available is a good safety precaution.

If you are attacked:
- Run away or get indoors as fast as possible. Never stand in one spot and swat as this only aggravates the bees further, increasing the number of stings you may receive.
- Try to protect your face and eyes as much as possible.
-Bees may follow you for hundreds of yards. Do not stop running to hide under water or in leaves, brush or a crevice.
- The single most important thing is to get away from the colony.

After an attack:
When a bee stings, the stinger and poison sack remain in the skin of the victim and venom continues to be pumped into the skin, even after the bee flies away.

After you have escaped the bees, remove stingers by scraping , NOT PULLING, stingers from your skin. A credit card works very well. The venom of an Africanized bee is no more toxic than that of a European bee; the difference is a matter of dose. Instead of a dozen or so stings, victims of Africanized bees can sustain hundreds of stings.

Wash the sting area with soap and water and apply an ice pack for a few minutes to relieve pain and swelling.

Most people can tolerate 15 to 25 stings without requiring special medical attention. Pain, redness and swelling are normal at the sting site; this does not constitute an allergic reaction. Anyone who receives more than 15 to 25 stings should seek medical assistance for possible delayed systemic complications.

People with a history of systemic allergic reactions including fainting and trouble breathing, should always carry an emergency kit of injectable epinephrine, use it if they are stung and them immediately see a physician.

Don't forget:
Honeybees play an important role in our lives. These bees are necessary for the pollination of crops. In fact, one-third of our diet relies on honeybee pollination.
People can coexist with Africanized honeybees by learning about the bee and its habits, supporting beekeeping efforts and taking a few precautions.

If you discover a wild beehive or if you have any questions regarding bees in or around your home or work place, contact the Moody Department of Entomology at 229-257-4397.