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African bees make U.S. debut.

African bees make U.S. debut

After years of anticipation, entomologists in southern Texas last week captured the first swarm of African bees known to have entered U.S. airspace. When measurements of wing and leg lengths and other physical traits confirmed the bees' African lineage, the researchers destroyed the colony, preserving some of the insects in alcohol and others in -80[degrees]F freezers for future analysis.

Officials expect many more arrivals of the African bees -- popularly called killer bees because of their reputation for fatally stinging those who disturb them (SN: 5/26/90, p.328). But researchers say the Texas swarm appears less interesting from a scientific standpoint than others studied farther south.

USDA researchers found the bees during a routine monthly check of hundreds of bee traps placed near the Mexican border. The traps had been laced with a synthetic version of bee aggregation phenomone, a chemical that bees secrete when they agree upon their choice of a new home. Brood maturity suggests the African bees had used the trap as a hive for at least 2-1/2 weeks, says Anita Collins, an entomologist at the USDA's Honeybee Research Laboratory in Weslaco, Texas. She estimates the 3-pound colony held more than 5,000 bees -- although, she adds, "we didn't count 'em."

Collins says that scientists, curious about the degree of interbreeding between African and local, European-derived bees, are more interested in bees with European-style physiques and African behaviors, or vice versa, than in bees that seem all-around African, like those just trapped. "Publicly, this was the big event everybody had been waiting for," she says. "Scientifically, it's 'Well, they've moved just a little further north.'"
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Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 27, 1990
Words:279
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