Entomological tests have confirmed that Africanized honeybees were responsible for the recent death of an elderly man in Dougherty County, Ga.
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.
First found in Texas
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. Department 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 at http://agr.georgia.gov/portal/site/AGR/ 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 local Extension offices."