AFRICANIZED HONEY BEE ALERT
For the last decade, we have heard the warnings that Africanized honey bees (AHBs), or so-called "killer bees," were headed north to the United States from South America. While Africanized honey bees arrived in Texas in 1991, it was not until late 1998 that they arrived in the South Bay. On December 8, 1998, a swarm of Africanized honey bees were found at a maintenance yard in the City of Lawndale. These bees pose a threat to humans and pets because they are much more aggressive and prone to attack in defense of their hives than the common European honey bee (EHBs), which are usually very docile. While the swarm found in Lawndale may have been an isolated colonization, it is important to be aware of the potential problems these bees can cause and to know what to do if they are encountered on the Peninsula.
Where did they come from?
Honey bees are not native to the Western Hemisphere. European settlers brought most honey bees to the Americas approximately 300 years ago. However, European honey bees did not perform well in the tropical climate of South America. So, in 1956, a bee breeder in Brazil imported hardier bees from Africa. In 1957, some of the African queen bees either escaped or were distributed to other bee keepers for breeding with European honey bees. The combination of escaping and distribution of African honey bees resulted in the hybridized or "Africanized" honey bee. Ever since 1957, the Africanized honey bees have been spreading northward at a rate of approximately 200 to 300 miles per year. By 1990, they had reached the United States boarder.
What makes Africanized honey bees dangerous?
To the human eye, Africanized honey bees look the same as common European honey bees. In addition, the venom of the two types of bees is the same. The only way to physically distinguish the two types of bees is under the microscope or through DNA testing. However, the behavior of Africanized honey bees differs from the more common type of honey bees in several significant ways:
Contrary to popular rumor, Africanized honey bees do not actively seek out victims to attack. However, they are extremely aggressive in defending their hives as compared to European honey bees. When disturbed, Africanized honey bees will attack in larger numbers, faster and sting more often than European honey bees. The injection of venom into the skin can be life-threatening to individuals who have an allergic reaction to it. In Mexico alone, 58 human deaths have been attributed to Africanized honey bee attacks between September 1986 and September 1991.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
The first thing to do, if you do not already know, is to get you and your family tested for allergies to bee stings. This is especially important for children. If you are allergic to bees, one sting can kill you.
The next thing to do is to have your property checked for and cleared of areas that may harbor Africanized bee colonies. Check the exterior of your home and all accessory buildings for openings that may allow the bees to enter. Seal up all crack and openings that are greater than 1/8 inch is size. Along the foundation, especially where utilities enter the building, should be checked and patched or sealed, if necessary, to prevent entry. Carefully inspect wood piles, masonry walls or any areas where equipment or unused items area stored outdoors. Be sure to check all outdoor areas where pets or other animal are kept, since confined pets are unable to run away if attacked by bees. You may wish to hire a professional exterminator conduct the property inspection.
If you encounter a bee colony during a search of your property LEAVE IT ALONE and report it immediately to Los Angeles County West Vector Control at (310) 915-7370. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to destroy the colony on your own!
If bees attack you, the best thing to do is to run away or seek shelter inside an enclosed area, such as a house or vehicle, and call 911 for emergency assistance. Bees are relatively slow flying insects, so most people are able to outrun them. However, Africanized honey bees will pursue you for up to 1/4 mile from their hive. Regardless of your hair color, bees are also prone to attack the head and face area. Therefore, be sure to cover your head with your arms or with an article of clothing, such as a shirt or jacket, as you run away.
NEVER stand in one place and swat at the bees. Your defensive movements will only increase the attack response of the bees. NEVER try to hide from the bees in unenclosed areas such as shrubbery. The bees will continue to attack and will recruit more attackers. Also, NEVER dive into a body of water, like a swimming pool, since the bees may still be there when you come up for air.
Once you reach shelter, any stingers should be removed promptly. However, do not pull the stinger out with your fingers, since this action can crush the venom sack and release more venom into your skin. Instead, scrape the stinger out with a fingernail, the blunt edge of a knife, a credit card or similar instrument. Even if you are not allergic to bee stings, if you are stung more than 15 times, seek medical attention immediately. Allergic persons should seek medical attention even following the use of an emergency bee sting kit. Be advised that self-monitoring of your response to bee stings is difficult, unreliable and dangerous. If you have any doubts, seek medical attention immediately.
Like it or not, Africanized honey bees have arrived in the South Bay. Although their reputation as "killer bees" is frightening, if not exaggerated, it is still very important to be aware of their potential presence and to take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your family and your pets. For more information on AHBs, you can call the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District at (310) 915-7370 or visit their website at www.lawestvector.org.