A swarm of as many as 100,000 bees attacked a Tennessee beekeeper last month, and genetic testing of the angry critters has now revealed that they were partially Africanized bees. This is the first time that Africanized bees have been found in Tennessee.
Africanized bees, often referred to as "killer bees," are a hybrid cross between the bee species normally found in America and African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata), which were originally introduced to the Americas as a productive source of honey. But the African honey bees take over hives wherever they spread, killing the hives' original queens and hybridizing with resident populations. The hybridized Africanized bees are significantly more aggressive than other bees and more likely to attack in massive swarms when defending their nests. Their stings are no worse than those of other bees, but the sheer number of them can create more life-threatening situations, especially in anyone who is allergic to bee stings.
According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, genetic tests on the recent swarm found that the bees were less than 17 percent Africanized, which is why they are considered "partially Africanized." The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers truly Africanized bees to have 50 percent African genetics.
Mike Studer, a Tennessee apiarist, said he was not surprised that partially Africanized bees were found in the state because they already appear in nearby Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida. "We have been expecting this for some time," he said in a prepared statement. He cautioned that citizens should be vigilant but said "there's no need to overreact. This is a situation that can be effectively managed through good beekeeping practices."
The partially Africanized hive, which was purchased from an out-of-state dealer, has been "depopulated" (in other words, killed off), according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The beekeeper who owned it suffered 30 stings in the attack, even though he was wearing protective equipment. Studer told The Tennessean newspaper that the beekeeper that the man, whose name has not been disclosed, ran to his car and drove around for five minutes until the swarm retreated. "We decided to go ahead and depopulate it because we don't want these aggressive bees in the state," Studer told the newspaper.
In related news, Africanized bees are suspected in a recent Texas swarm that attacked three people and a horse. The horse, which was observed almost completely covered in bees, later died from allergic reactions to the stings.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture released the following five steps to protect yourself if you encounter Africanized bees:
- Cover your head with your shirt or jacket while running because Africanized bees tend to sting the face and head.
- Never stand still or get boxed into a place outdoors where you cannot escape the attack.
- Seek immediate shelter in an enclosed building or vehicle. Isolate yourself from the bees.
- Do not attempt to rescue a victim without the proper protective gear and training. Doing so could make you the second victim.