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article imageKiller honey bees cause elderly Georgia man's death

By Kim I. Hartman     Oct 23, 2010 in World
Albany - The Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner has issued a statement confirming the death of a 73-year-old Doughtery County man, who was operating construction equipment, was the result of an attack by a swarm of Africanized 'killer honey bees.'
It is the first time state officials have recorded that such bees are in Georgia, Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said in a news release.
"The bees were probably just three to four inches surrounding the bull dozer dead," said Battalion Chief Marty Leverett, Albany Fire Department. More than an hour after Davis was attacked, bees still swarmed around the cab of the bulldozer."He got overcome by bees and he got stung. Actually he was unconscious when we arrived," said Leverett. Firefighters battled the bees so paramedics could get to him, reports WALB News.
Entomological tests have confirmed that thousands of Africanized honey bees were responsible for the death of an elderly man in Georgia last week. News reports say the man accidentally disturbed a feral colony of bees with his bulldozer and that he received more than 100 stings from the bee's that are often called killer bees because they are extremely defensive when it comes to guarding their nest, Irvin said.
Africanized bees do not survive well outside of warmer and more tropical climates, such as Florida and Texas, said Virginia Webb, who, along with her husband, Carl, is a full-time commercial beekeeper.
“I am very surprised that this colony is here,” said Webb, a third-generation beekeeper who lives in North Georgia. “I think that this is a very rare and exceptional thing," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Africanized honey bee and the familiar European honey bee, Georgia’s state insect, look the same and their behavior is similar in some respects. Each bee can sting only once, however, Africanized honey bees are less predictable and more defensive than European honey bees. They are more likely to defend a wider area around their nest and respond faster and in greater numbers than European honey bees, said the Agriculture Department statement.
To confirm that the bees were the Africanized hybrid, Georgia agriculture officials sent samples to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Irvin said. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has the capability to do FABIS (fast African bee identification system) testing and the U.S. Department of Agriculture identification test (the complete morphometrics test) to confirm the bees’ identity.
Africanized honey bees have the same venom as that of European honey bees, the state agriculture department said. But their behavior is less predictable, and they are likely to respond faster if they think their nest is being threatened, the state agency added.
The Africanized honey bees found in Dougherty County built a hive in a porch column and a log. Experts say these Africanized honey bees build hives just about anywhere and quickly split off and build hives elsewhere. This is how they travel so quickly.
“That nest gets picked up and put on the back of a truck or on a train, car, trailer, etc. and then it’s driven from Florida, Texas, where ever, into other parts of the United States,” says Jennifer Berry, Lab Manager and Research Coordinator with the University of Georgia, reports MySouthWestGa.
Once they settle in their new home, they are very defensive of it. Large numbers of them have been known to sting people, pets and livestock with little provocation, often for unknowingly walking in range of, or approaching their colony.
"Georgia beekeepers are our first and best line of defense against these invaders. They are the ones who will be able to monitor and detect any changes in bee activity," said state Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin in a statement. State officials will continue to trap and monitor bee swarms to find out where other Africanized bees colonies are migrating and building hives.
Webb said European colonies can produce between 60,000 and 80,000 bees a summer. Africanized colonies produce half of that, she said. The bees are also smaller, but can be more threatening, however, because they can take over European bees’ colony, That’s a very scary thing when you have a bee that will literally take over European stock,” Webb told the AJC.
Webb told the AJC she doesn’t know how an Africanized bee colony got to Georgia but said it may be from a migratory beekeeper who didn’t know he was transporting a feral colony.
Irvin advised people to stay away from bee swarms, hives and colonies and not to stand and swat at bees if stung. This will aggravate them even further, said Agriculture department safety tips.
“We also want to educate people about what to do in case they encounter a colony of Africanized honey bees. Georgians can visit our website for more information. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service has a publication on Africanized honey bees that is available online or at Georgia State Extension offices.”
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