Africanized bee appearance in Texas Panhandle calls for caution

Bees confirmed as the Africanized strain have been found in the Panhandle, prompting a word of caution from a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.

Carl Patrick, Extension entomologist in Amarillo, said this summer he has received two to three samples of bees a week to send for testing, compared to two to three a month in the past.

"We just need people to understand we have them (Africanized honey bees) in the area, and there will be bees throughout the Panhandle that act a little more aggressively than they have in the past," he said.

The first confirmed case was collected Jan. 30 in Armstrong County, Patrick said. Since then, bees from Amarillo in Randall County were collected and tested positive on April 19, May 16 and June 1.

"We knew they had moved as far north as Swisher County in the past years, but this is the first year they've been found this far north," he said. "We haven't received anything from the northern Panhandle, but we have to assume they run throughout the area now."

Distinguishing between native honey bees and the Africanized strain cannot be done visually, Patrick said. All bees must be sent to the Texas Honey Bee Identification Lab in College Station to be confirmed through genetic tests or by measurements.

Africanized honey bees were brought to Brazil in 1956 to improve honey production of the European honey bee, he said. In 1957, containment measures failed and several swarms escaped into the countryside.

The Africanized bee passed on its aggressive traits through mating and began moving north at a rate of 200 to 300 miles per year, first entering Texas in 1990, Patrick said.

"These bees will not look different and the single bees out foraging among the flowers will not act any different than they always do," he said. "Usually, even the swarms you see in the open will not act any different."

The Africanized bees are more aggressive in protecting their brood, Patrick said. European honey bees may chase intruders up to100 feet from the colony, but the Africanized bees will go as far as 400 feet.

The sting is the same whether the bee is European or Africanized, but many more bees will aggressively attack if it is the Africanized bee, he said.

"What we've learned over the years is certain things really irritate the Africanized bees," Patrick said. "They don't like small engines, such as lawnmowers, weed-eaters and chainsaws."

Also, the European honey bees tend to nest aboveground in houses, trees or vacant structures, he said. In addition to those nesting sites,

Africanized bees also nest in holes in the ground, irrigation pipes, control boxes and underneath houses.

Patrick offered some advice for individuals coming in contact with any bees:

* Stay away or get away as quickly and as far as possible.

* Get into a vehicle or house or if it is a brushy area, put as much brush between the source of the bees and yourself.

* Call 911 if you witness someone being stung, and be sure to tell emergency personnel exactly what the situation is so they can come prepared to deal with the bees when trying to administer aid.

* Scrape stingers from the body, don't try to pull them out. Each stinger has a venom sack and pulling only mashes more venom into the wound.

"People who know of an established colony should call someone in the pest control industry to take care of it," Patrick said. "It's not for the novice person to deal with. There are a few pest control folks who will do it. They charge, but to me, it would be worth it."

For more information on Africanized honey bees, go to:

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