By Keith S. Delaplane
University of Georgia
Without beekeepers, the population density of the docile European bees already in an area will decline. That will leave the area open to infestation by Africanized bees. It's the equivalent of abandoning territory to the enemy.
Only beekeepers have the knowledge and resources to maintain high densities of European bees that can genetically dilute Africanized populations.
As Africanized bees expand into temperate areas, their tropical adaptations are less advantageous to them. Cold weather seems to limit both their defensiveness and overwintering ability.
'Hybrid zones'These bees are more defensive in warm, tropical regions and less so in cooler zones. In areas where their ranges overlap, Africanized and European bees interbreed, causing "hybrid zones" where bees share African and European traits.
In Argentina, Africanized bees dominate in the northern, semitropical regions, but European bees dominate in the southern, temperate areas. The area in between (about latitude 32 to 34) is a hybrid zone where bees have varying degrees of African or European traits.
A similar pattern may occur in Georgia with African traits dominating in southern regions.
It probably won't be long now before Africanized bees arrive in Georgia. But it's important to remember that for most people, life won't change at all. We'll just have one more thing to think about when we're outdoors.
Long flightIntroduced into Brazil in the 1950s, Africanized bees arrived in the United States in October 1990. For the next 15 years, they spread mostly in the Southwest, including California and southern Nevada.
Last summer, established populations were formally announced in Florida.
Compared to the honeybees that European settlers brought here centuries ago, the African bees are much more defensive. Large numbers of them sometimes sting people and livestock with little provocation.
This is the behavior for which the media widely calls them "killer bees." People do sometimes get alarmed when they first arrive, but Africanized bees don't cause widespread or permanent chaos.
Don't panicJust stay alert for wild bee colonies when you're outdoors, the same way you should look out for fire ants and poisonous snakes. It's just a matter of being prepared for when they do arrive.
Remember these points:
- Never knowingly approach an occupied bee nest. During daylight hours, bees can be seen flying to and from their entrance.
- Don't disturb a swarm of bees. Call a professional bee removal service or your county University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent for help in removing it.
- Never climb a tree, kick a log or stump or move trash until you first check to see whether bees are flying in and out.
- Be sure the walls of your house and outbuildings don't have cracks or holes where a colony of bees could enter and form a nest.
- Keep an escape route in mind. Never crawl into an enclosed place from which you can't quickly exit.
- Operators of open-cab tractors are especially at risk from hidden in-ground colonies. Keeping a beekeeper's veil on hand is a good safety precaution.
(Keith Delaplane is a Cooperative Extension entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)