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'Killer bees' swarm, fatally sting Doughtery County man on bulldozer, Georgia ag commissioner says

Killer bees swarmed a Dougherty County man on a bulldozer last week when he ran across a wild colony of the insects and was stung more than 100 times.

The Georgia Agricultural Commissioner confirmed Thursday that tests show the bees were of the so-called "Africanized" variety known to be more aggressive than the European honeybees more common here.

“This is the first record of Africanized honeybees in Georgia,” said Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

The hybrid of African and European honeybees got the nickname "killer bees" because they attack with so little provocation, known to swarm and sting both people and livestock.

Says the ag commissioner office: "The Africanized honeybee and the familiar European honeybee (Georgia’s state insect) look the same and their behavior is similar in some respects. Each bee can sting only once, and there is no difference between Africanized honeybee venom and that of a European honeybee. However, Africanized honeybees are less predictable and more defensive than European honeybees. They are more likely to defend a wider area around their nest and respond faster and in greater numbers than European honeybees."

The killer bees first reached the United States in 1990, in Texas. They since have spread to New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida and now Georgia. Florida since 2005 has had an established breeding population.

While trying to create a honeybee better suited to tropic conditions, researchers in Brazil in the 1950s had African bees that escaped and began hybridizing with European honeybees. The hybrid “Africanized” honeybees colonized South America and Central America, Mexico and now are spreading through the United States.

“The Georgia Department of Agriculture is going to continue its trapping and monitoring of bee swarms to try to find where any Africanized honeybees are,” said Irvin. “We also want to educate people about what to do in case they encounter a colony of Africanized honeybees. Georgians can visit our website for more information. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service has a publication on Africanized honeybees that is available online and at extension offices.”

The Department of Agriculture says Georgians should remember that Africanized honeybees are very defensive of their hives, respond to threats quickly and sting in large numbers, can sense a threat 50 feet or more from nest, sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from their nest, will pursue a perceived threat for a quarter-mile or more, swarm frequently to establish new nests and nest in small cavities and sheltered areas.

Possible nest sites include empty boxes, cans, buckets or other containers; old tires or vehicles; lumber piles; holes in fences, trees or ground; sheds, garages and other outbuildings; and low decks or spaces under buildings.

Anyone attacked by killer bees should follow these steps: Do not stand and swat as that only invites more stings. Protect the face and eyes and run. Seek shelter in a car or building, and if a few bees follow, remember that it's better to face a few in a protected area than thousands outside.

Hiding in water or brush does not offer enough protection, the ag commissioner says.

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