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Here come the dreaded "killer" bees.

Experts offer help in understanding the habits of these Africanized honeybees

THE 35-YEAR migration started in Brazil, hit Texas in 1990, then spread to Arizona last summer and New Mexico last fall. Now, the much-feared Africanized honeybees--called killer bees--are moving into Southern California. At press time, these bees were 1/4 mile from the Imperial County line, and were predicted to arrive this spring. The bees are expected to expand their range by 100 to 300 miles a year, spreading throughout the mild-winter West and beyond. Here is advice from experts with UC Cooperative Extension and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to help you coexist safely with these bees.


Africanized honeybees look like the European honeybees now commonly found in our gardens, and like their relatives, they make honey. They are fairly docile when they are foraging, but they defend their nests ferociously. And though their "killer" reputation has been exaggerated, people who work or play outdoors risk being stung.

Like ordinary honeybees, Africanized bees sting only once, and their venom is no more toxic than that of ordinary honeybees. But Africanized bees are more sensitive to disturbance and react defensively when people or animals get too close to their nests. They sense activity, like children running, 50 feet or more from the nest, and vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more away. Once disturbed, they may pursue a victim--by the hundreds--for 1/4 mile or more. The bees pose the greatest threat to those unable to flee an attack, particularly children, the elderly, and confined pets. In severe encounters, the number of stings received usually ranges between 200 and 300 (although incidents of 1,000 and more stings have been reported). Individuals not allergic to bees have survived more than 500 stings with prompt medical care.


Africanized bees are less discriminating about nesting sites than European honeybees are. They make nests in containers and in walls or trees with entranceways 1/4 inch or larger. They swarm to form new colonies more frequently, resulting in more nests in a given area.

To eliminate potential nesting sites around your house and garden, seal openings in walls, vents, and tree cavities with 1/8-inch hardware cloth. Or use wood or caulking to plug holes in areas that don't require ventilation. Remove all empty containers and debris piles.

From spring to fall, when bees are more likely to swarm, check your garden weekly. Bees repeatedly entering or leaving an area can indicate an active nest. If you see a nest or swarm, call a structural pest control company or your country agricultural commissioner's office.

Use caution when working outdoors or when entering outbuildings where bees may nest. Listen for the sound of buzzing, and look around the whole property for bees before turning on power equipment. Keep an escape route and shelter in mind.


If you know you are allergic to bee stings, consult your doctor about bee sting kits.

Whether you're allergic or not, if bees attack, run for cover. Protect your face with clothing, and seek shelter quickly in a building or car. Don't swat at bees or try to pull a victim to safety in the midst of an attack, or you will be stung, too. If you have quick access to a blanket, throw it over the victim to prevent further stings. Call 911 or emergency services if the victim needs help.

As soon as the victim is sheltered from the bees, remove the stingers. Use your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, or a knife blade to scrape the stingers from the skin. Squeezing or pulling a stinger releases more venom.

Once stingers are removed, wash the wounds with soap and water. Apply an ice pack to diminish pain and swelling. For 15 or more stings, or if breathing is difficult, seek immediate medical care.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ocone, Lynn
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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