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Africanized Honey Bees

Africanized bees in Georgia, 20 October 2010

From Keith S. Delaplane, Extension Apiculturist

A human fatality occurred from a massive bee sting incident near Albany, Georgia on October 11, 2010. The victim was operating a tractor and mower, aggravated a nest of bees, and received over 100 stings. Bee samples were collected by personnel of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and submitted to laboratories managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture with capacity for performing the appropriate diagnoses. On October 20 we received confirmation from Florida that the bees associated with the Albany stinging fatality are in fact Africanized honey bees (AHBs). This constitutes the first record of Africanized bees in Georgia. However, at this time it is believed this is an isolated incidence and AHBs are not established in the state.

Africanized bees, sometimes called “killer bees,” have been present in the United States since October 1990. They have been confirmed in Florida since 2005. These bees are a sub-species of honey bees and capable of inter-breeding with the European honey bee well-known throughout Georgia as an important pollinator and producer of honey. Unfortunately, the African variety is extremely defensive and responds with a massive stinging reaction with little provocation. Please visit our UGA Extension publications website for more information on Africanized Honey Bees.

The most important things to be aware of are the following:

1. Be cautious around places where Africanized bees are likely to nest, such as abandoned sheds, bee hive equipment, discarded tires and subterranean cavities.

2. If you are attacked, RUN AWAY. You may think this sounds silly, but experience has taught us that people do NOT run away. Instead, they stand and swat which simply escalates the defensive frenzy until it reaches lethal proportions.

3. Get inside a closed vehicle or building as fast as possible, and STAY there. Do not worry if a few bees follow you inside. Here’s another hard lesson we’ve learned. People do NOT stay inside a closed vehicle if a few bees follow them inside. Instead, they panic and flee back outside where tens of thousands of angry bees attack them. Maybe it’s a bizarre form of claustrophobia, but this pattern has repeated itself over and over in the stinging incidents we’ve monitored in Latin America and the Southwest USA. Get inside. Stay inside.

4. European bees and local beekeepers are our best defense against AHBs. In response to Africanized honey bees, some communities may consider zoning restrictions against all forms of beekeeping. This essentially cedes territory to the enemy. Only gentle European bees can genetically dilute the defensive Africanized variety, compete with them, and minimize their local