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Texans devise battle plan for bee invasion.

Texans devise battle plan for bee invasion

Bracing for what they call a "frontal invasion" of Africanized honeybees expected to hit their state this spring, Texas beekeepers and research entomologists express increasing frustration over the lack of a federal policy addressing the potentially devastating influx.

Since the bees' accidental release in Brazil in 1957, all attempts to stem their northward migration have failed, allowing swarms to approach within 150 miles of the Texas border. USDA inaction now leaves Texans holding the entire ball of wax, says Fowden G. Maxwell, an entomologist at Texas A&M University at College Station. Maxwell detailed a new statewide action plan he helped develop -- which includes strict quarantines around affected hives -- at this week's annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in San Antonio, Tex.

"Because of a lack of federal policy, we could find ourselves in a serious situation in just a few months. We're going to be overrun by Africanized honeybees before APHIS even comes up with a plan," Maxwell says, referring to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the federal agency normally responsible for developing such strategies. Maxwell began agitating for a coordinated national strategy 2-1/2 years ago.

"There is no [federal] plan right now," acknowledges Charles H. Bare of APHIS in Hyattsville, Md. An official statement expressing USDA's concern about the bees now awaits the Secretary of Agriculture's signature. However, Maxwell says, such a "Mom and apple pie statement" in itself does nothing other than encourage various USDA agencies, such as APHIS and the Agricultural Research Service, to begin formulating specific plans. "We can't wait that long," he argues, citing estimates that the invasion could cost Texas more than $130 million per year, mostly from decreased production of crops that depend upon traveling beekeepers whose transportable hives pollinate crops in the Rio Grande valley. Nationally, experts expect billions of dollars in damage from the aggressive insects, deemed loathsome because they sting too readily, produce too little honey and prove difficult to manage for agricultural pollination.

The Texas plan, likely to serve as a model for other states, recommends:

* Use of traps baited with bee-attracting pheromones to capture early-arriving "pioneer swarms," expected to hit Brownsville around March. Once established, Africanized hives can spawn new swarms within 36 days, whereas the European honeybees kept in the United States swarm yearly.

* A quarantine banning the transport of commercial hives within two miles of any discovered Africanized hive, as well as limited quarantines within a 150-mile radius to allow state officials to inspect for escaped Africanized queens, which can invade the nests of European honeybees and secretly begin mass-producing Africanized offspring. The quarantines could strand large numbers of mobile hives, preventing beekeepers from delivering them to crops desperately in need of immediate pollination.

* Mandatory annual requeening of commercial hives with certified European queens to eliminate hidden infestations with Africanized queens.

* Mass rearing and release of male European bees to dilute the genetic impact of Africanized males.

Conflicting data leave scientists hotly debating the value of releasing European males. Two studies published earlier this year suggest Africanized queens don't hybridize with their European cousins. But new evidence presented at this week's meeting contradicts those findings. Even hybrid Africanized bees may remain behaviorally incorrigible, however, and entomologists now discuss with resignation the prospect of learning to live with the intruders.
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Author:Weiss, R.
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 16, 1989
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