Killer bees which are highly aggressive and lethal when threatened have been identified in the San Francisco Bay area for the first time ever.
This Africanized honey bees were observed by University of California, San Diego researchers, in Reliez Valley, a Lafayette subdivision near Briones Regional Park.
Samples taken from the area in the spring of 2014 have been analyzed in the laboratory, and they confirmed the bees’ presence. The discovery was published in the September issue of the journal PLOS ONE.
Africanized honeybees are hybrids between African and Western bees, which were initially imported to Brazil in order to increase honey production. However, in 1957, 26 swarms escaped quarantine, and, ever since, they have spread across South and Central America, reaching the US in 1985.
The scientists had been following the bees’ movement throughout California, ever since they arrived here in 1994. Until recently the insects hadn’t flown further north than Mariposa Country. It appears that now the swarm has reached Bay Area, as a result of warmer temperatures.
According to Joshua Kohn, professor of biology at UC San Diego, it is unclear exactly how many swarms threaten the area now, but it is almost certain that there is more than one colony.
Although their numbers may be low up north, honeybees usually roam approximately one mile away from their hives, but they can also fly up to 5 miles.
Africanized bees have been nicknamed ”killer bees” because they are extremely dangerous and unpredictable when their colony feels under attack. However, according to Kohn, people shouldn’t necessarily feel alarmed, although climate change may make the species more belligerent.
“An Africanized honeybee out foraging on flowers is no more aggressive than your average European honeybee. Nor is the sting of an individual any different”, explained the researcher.
Normally, beehives are perched in trees, or hidden in caves, rocks, or under sheds and chimneys. Locals should take precautions and not disturb these habitats, because, when feeling threatened, the level of aggression of the insects soars.
They are much more defensive than Western bees, and they tend to attack relentlessly, in large numbers. They are also much more likely to sting the victim hundreds of times, and pursue their supposed attackers for over 500 yards.
Therefore, if someone spots such a colony, it is advisable to contact a professional beekeeper immediately, in order to tackle the situation.
Overall, around 40 people die in the U.S. every year as a result of regular bee stings, and there are no clear records regarding the fatalities caused by Africanized bees. However, only one month ago, a construction worker from Riverside was killed and two others were injured in such an attack.
For now, researchers are unsure if the killer bees will remain permanently in the Lafayette area, given that they prefer warmer, drier climates. If they stay, it may help replace the rapidly declining European breed. Africanized bees show heightened resistance to diseases, in comparison with their counterparts.
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