Monday, June 20, 2005

Killer Bees!!

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- African honeybees -- also known as killer bees -- have entered Florida, and a University of Florida researcher says the aggressive insects may eventually spread throughout the state and move into other areas of the southeastern United States.

Glenn Hall said African honeybees have been found and stopped at ports in Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa since 1987.

"However, new finds in the Tampa area suggest that African bees are spreading and becoming established in the state, and they are being found farther inland from the ports," Hall said in a University of Florida press release. "We did not believe that enough bees could arrive on ships to form an established population, but they did so in Puerto Rico, and now appear to be doing the same in Florida."

But Hall noted that the bees are here to stay due to the warm climate and could affect the beekeeping industry and the pollination of many crops. That's not to mention the problems they could cause to public safety, recreation and tourism.

The dangerous thing about African honeybees is their instinctual aggression. American honeybees will pursue a foe until it is 100 yards from the hive, and not all drones respond to the chemical alarm thrown by a bee rupturing itself with a sting. All African drones that sense such an alarm will charge the target and they pursue for 400 yards. That's a quarter-mile, as the bee flies; if terrain or infirmity or youth prevent a human from running beyond that midair quarter-mile radius faster than a bee can fly, they've had it.

What's odd about African bees is that their instinctual combat pattern is adopted by American beehives they meet. The queen and drones are all genetically American, but suddenly react according to the pattern of genetically African bees. These bees are called "Africanized" bees.

That is why hives throughout Southern California were destroyed when the African bees began moving in. The lethal pattern of the African bee is spread much faster than reproduction could accomplish. It looks like Florida isn't yet aware of the fact that casual beekeeping in their state is now kaput.

An interesting aside: as an undergrad at UC Riverside, I took Entymology 101 as a lab science. One blazing day in the summer of 1997, we walked from our elderly lecture hall by the labs into the newer, airconditioned science buildings. There, in comfy theater chairs, we had an hour-long lecture by a different entymology professor. I don't remember his name, but his discussion of the killer bee has been with me ever since.

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