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Killer Bee News In Florida


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Florida Man Killed by Killer Bees

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.  —  A man in Okeechobee County died after being stung more than 100 times by bees that officials think were Africanized honey bees, state agriculture officials said.

The man had a fatal reaction to the bee stings, which aren't always fatal, medical officials said.

If the tests are confirmed, it would be the first death in Florida caused by the aggressive bees, according to the Florida Department of Agricultre, although there have been at least 17 deaths caused by the bees across the United States since 1990.

The victim's name wasn't released.

Africanized bee stings are no more potent than an ordinary bee stings, but the bees are far more aggressive and attack in swarms. Experts say they have been in Florida since 2002, and there have been a few reports about swarms of the bees attacking people.

Officials at the Florida Department of Agriculture said the man was stung April 9 in rural northwestern Okeechobee County as he was trying to dismantle a trailer. Witnesses told officials that the man knew there was a nest of bees on the trailer.

The bee colony was later destroyed by state officials.

Bee experts say the swarms don't fly around seeking to attack people. They do react aggressively, however, when disturbed by people or animals, such as when someone pokes at their nest.

Agriculture officials said people should stay away from bee nests and shouldn't try to remove nests themselves. If they're chased by a swarm of bees, people should run until they can get inside.

Officials also said that most wasp and hornet sprays shouldn't be used on bee nests. While they can kill the bees, they also cause the release of a pheromone that stimulates the rest of the colony to attack.


Killer bees now rule Florida's hives

 

As the "mean" bees spread, apiaries face a mysterious blight.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published October 3, 2007

Africanized bees, called killer bees because of the dramatic death they can inflict, have become the dominant wild bee in Florida, say state officials.

Known to relentlessly pursue their victims in swarms, the bees have been linked to at least a dozen deaths nationwide in the past decade and nearly two dozen animal fatalities statewide during the past two years.

"These are mean bees," said Jerry Hayes, chief apiary inspector for the state Department of Agriculture. "And it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse." Two years ago the department recommended that all wild bees be exterminated.

But now beekeepers are divided - with some ignoring the call to exterminate -- saying they're in the midst of the biggest crisis their profession has ever seen. Nearly 50 percent of the nation's captive bees have disappeared in the past year to a mysterious syndrome.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Dade City beekeeper David Hackenberg. "I understand why you would be concerned about public safety. Unfortunately, we need these bees."

Jeff McChesney, a Gulfport pest exterminator and bee enthusiast, has helped place a dozen wild bee hives with beekeepers struggling to rebuild their devastated colonies. "I have people from as far as the state of Oregon who are willing to drive here once a month to get our bees because they are collapsing elsewhere," he said.

But last month the state warned him about the risks. "I'm kind of at a standstill now," he said. "I don't know if we should kill them or save the bees."

Accidental release

Africanized bees, a crossbreed of honey bees from Europe and southern Africa, were introduced to the Western Hemisphere in 1957 when they were accidentally released during an attempt to create a super-productive breed.

Over time, shipping traffic brought the bees to the United States via various ports. In Tampa Bay, the bees were first reported in 2002. Since then, they have kept multiplying at a continuous rate, Hayes said.

In a 2005 statewide sample study of wild bees, 60 percent were Africanized bees. This year, that number was 87 percent.

The bees are so dominant in part because they can recruit more gentle bees. They also attack European beehives, killing the queen and installing their own. And their queens produce offspring more quickly.

Africanized bees, which appear similar to European bees, attack in far greater numbers and will chase their victims. In the most recent bee-related death, a Texas man was killed in September after more than 1,000 bees attacked him.

No Africanized bee-related fatalities have been reported in Florida, but several people have been hospitalized after attacks. And one of the more brutal animal deaths involved a 900-pound horse in Hendry County that died in 2005 when more than a thousand Africanized bees attacked it. Four pounds of bees were found in the horse's stomach.

"This is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at 2 a.m.," Hayes said. "They will sting hundreds or thousands of times. They will go up your nose and in your mouth. We are talking about a real dramatic death and we just don't need that in Florida."

Collapse of colonies

The growth of the killer bees comes at a time when captive bees nationwide are disappearing in an unexplained phenomenon named Colony Collapse Disorder. Experts who might have once advocated bringing in wild bees to supplement the loss of the managed colonies say doing so now would be too risky.

"As long as we have beekeepers, we will have good bees; the problem is the bees in the wild, you can't tell what kind of bees they are," said Elmore Herman, a Marianna beekeeper and president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association. "So why take the chance of taking them home and getting someone stung?"

But some beekeepers say state officials should at least try to distinguish between European or Africanized wild bees instead of writing them all off.

"This is how we get fruit and other crops," said Hackenberg, the Dade City beekeeper who first sounded the alarm about Colony Collapse Disorder last fall when thousands of his bees disappeared. "We need everything we've got to pollinate whatever there is out there."

Later this month, beekeepers are set to discuss Africanized bees at their annual state conference in Winter Haven. The state has about 1,000 beekeepers.

However, some rogue bee advocates, convinced agriculture officials are overreacting to reports of bee attacks in other areas, already have begun domesticating Africanized bees, introducing them into colonies run by European bee queens.

It's unclear if the effort will work. Africanized bees spend more time foraging for pollen, which could make them better pollinators than their European brethren, but they also produce less honey for the same reason.

In Brazil, farmers have used Africanized bees to pollinate crops, but it is still experimental in the United States and state officials do not recommend it.

Some bee advocates say if wild bees do not exhibit aggression they should not be exterminated.

Jimmy McKinnon, an amateur beekeeper in St. Petersburg, has wild bees, although he doesn't believe any are Africanized.

"Just to go across the board and kill all the bees, it is the stupidest thing I have ever heard," McKinnon said.

No data on harvest

Farming officials say they don't know what the ultimate impact of the captive bee die-out will be or even what could happen if Africanized bees keep spreading across the state. So far, neither situation has meant less honey or a loss in food crops.

But no data has been collected to compare the number of bees with the pounds of food collected each harvest season, said Charles Moss, a food and resource economics professor at the University of Florida. He was recently tapped by the state to research the impact of Africanized bees.

"We won't know what the impact will be unless it reaches a catastrophic level, and then it is too late."


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Killer Bee Threat Grows

More Africanized hives pop up

By Jennifer Booth Reed
jreed@news-press.com

Originally posted on January 09, 2007

Joining the monitor lizards, fire ants, gators and sting rays, Floridians have a new pest to guard against: killer bees.

Africanized honeybees snuck into Hillsborough County on a cargo ship four years ago, and since then have literally been swarming the state.

They’ve been spotted in some 18 counties, including Lee, and experts say their numbers are only going to grow — fast if the past few years are any indication.

Africanized bees look almost exactly like their more docile European counterparts, so the only way to tell whether a colony is Africanized is through DNA testing.

In 2002, 8 percent of DNA samples sent to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were Africanized. Last year, 40 percent of the samples turned out to be from Africanized bees.

Of the 38 Lee County samples sent to the state since 2003, 16 were Africanized. They have popped up in various locations, but are especially nesting in the area between Alico and Corkscrew roads.

“This is just the beginning,” promised B. Keith Councell, a licensed beekeeper who works in Lee.

Don’t panic, urged Councell and other experts, but do pay attention. There’s a lot Floridians need to know about these nasty buggers, and a lot they can do to keep their families, pets and property safe.

Let’s start with the basics:

What’s an Africanized honeybee and how’d they get here?

In 1957, Brazilian scientists brought over a collection of honeybees from Africa thinking they might be better suited to the tropical climate. They planned to mate them with the European bees and produce a sturdier, but still gentile, insect.

The theory flopped. The hybrid bees inherited the African temper.

Then, 12 queens escaped their keepers and started to reproduce.

Bees spread through South and Central America, into Mexico and, in 1990, appeared in Texas.

The Africanized bees reproduce much more often than the European ones — 16 times per year compared to two to six.

There’s not a lot that can be done.

“You can’t put a net up around the state. It’s just one of those insects that are really hard to deal with,” said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture’s plant industry division.

Bee management appears to be the best method of control, she said.

Africanized bees avoid territory already populated by European ones, so state agricultural experts are encouraging beekeepers to establish more European colonies.

But the European bee population is shrinking.

The varroa mite, a parasite, is infesting hives and killing baby bees.

“It’s reduced the population of the European honeybees by about 40 percent,” Feiber said.

Other European bees are being exported to states that need them to pollinate crops.

Finally, new construction is wiping out bee habitat, along with open spaces where beekeepers can keep managed hives.

Africanized bees are far less picky than European ones when it comes to finding a nesting site. The species will happily climb into a roof vent or air conditioning unit or an empty container and start a hive.

“Building is wrecking havoc on beekeepers,” Councell said. “It’s another possibility of what’s happening here.”

How nasty are Africanized honeybees?

In the course of a second, an army of angry bees will attack whomever or whatever stirred it up. Pheromones released during the sting sends an alarm signal, luring more bees to the attack.

They’ll chase their victims as far as a quarter mile and if they catch them, they’ll prick them with hundreds of stings.

Don’t jump into a pool or canal — the stubborn and furious bees will wait for as long as three hours for the victim to emerge. And the gators in the canal by that point have probably been riled up.

Earlier this month, four dogs in Palm Beach County were killed by bees. Fourteen people in the U.S. have died from Africanized stings since the bee’s arrival here.

But there are things the public can do to minimize the risk of getting stung — plugging up any holes in their home’s exterior, checking the perimeter for signs of bees, covering and sealing containers in the yard and, if the occasion comes, making sure plywood window coverings and hurricane shutters leave no room for bees to climb in.

“Over time, we will find we can live with them, just as other people have,” said Roy Beckford, the agriculture and natural resources agent for Lee County Extension Services.

He urged people to remember that Africanized bees are still in the minority, and that a swarm of bees or an active bee hive does not necessarily mean Africanized honeybees are on the loose.

The best advice?

Keep your distance, and call a beekeeper.

“I don’t think we should create any kind of mass hysteria. People just need to be educated about bees in general,” Beckford said. “They need to leave the work to control the Africanized bees to the experts.”

BEE FACTS

• Visually, the two bees look alike, but behavior is different. Africanized bees respond to a perceived threat in seconds, sending thousands to attack.

• European honeybees are more docile. They might wait a good eight seconds to respond, and even then typically won’t go after a victim in droves.

• Homeowners are encouraged to call a beekeeper or agricultural expert, not try to remove the hives themselves.

WHAT TO DO IF AFRICANIZED BEES SWARM

If you disturb an Africanized beehive, you are going to get swarmed. The best advice:

• Get inside a building or a car, even if it means trapping a few bees inside with you.

• If you’re not near a shelter, run as fast and as far as you can. Africanized bees will chase victims as far as a quarter mile.

• Do not jump into a swimming pool or body of water. The bees will wait for you.

• Do not swat them. That only makes it worse.

• Cover your nose and mouth. They’re attracted to orifices.

• Check your home and yard before mowing a lawn. Sometimes the sound of the mower is enough to rouse the bees.

• If you’re stung, and you do not show signs of an allergic reaction, dizziness or faintness, apply an ice pack and then coat the area with a paste of baking soda and water. Call a doctor or 911 for more serious reactions.

• Do not squeeze the stingers. That releases more toxins. Instead break them off with a fingernail or credit card.

BEES AND WASPS

• In addition to the familiar European honeybee, there are six other recognized species of honeybees, including the Indian honeybee, Koschevnikov’s honeybee, the dwarf honeybee, the andreniform dwarf honeybee, the giant honeybee, and the mountain giant honeybee. The European, the Indian, and to some extent the dwarf honeybees are the species that have been domesticated, although the European honeybee is by far the most widespread domesticated bee and the only species kept in North America.

• Yellowjackets are black-and-yellow wasps of the genus Vespula or Dolichovespula (though some can be black-and-white, the most notable of these being the bald-faced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata). They can be identified by their distinctive combination of black-and-yellow color, small size (slightly larger than a bee), and entirely black antennae. In some parts of the United States, they are called meat bees.

They can sting repeatedly and without apparent provocation (especially so in response to nest disturbance), and so can be major pests.

• The bumblebee is a flying insect of the genus Bombus in the family Apidae. Like the common honeybee, of which it is a relative, the bumblebee feeds on nectar and gathers pollen to feed its young. These creatures are beneficial to humans and the plant world alike, and tend to be larger and furrier than other members of the bee family. Most, but not all, bumblebee species are gentle.

Bumblebees are important pollinators of both crops and wildflowers, but are in danger in many developed countries due to habitat destruction and collateral pesticide damage


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Killer bees cited in attack of Fort Lauderdale couple, dog

 

By David Fleshler South Florida Sun-Sentinel Posted January 16 2007, 9:47 PM EST


 

The attack was terrifying. As a young woman tried to wash her dog behind her Fort Lauderdale house, thousands of bees swarmed around her and began to sting.
       
"There's these bees in our backyard -- they attacked all of us -- they're in the whole house, they're all over the house, and we're inside a room and there's bees everywhere and we don't know what to do," Nicole Sinder, 18, told a 911 operator from her home on Dixie Highway

"And they bit me over 20 times and they bit my boyfriend. They bit my sister and my dog. My dog is hyperventilating."

The Dec. 26 attack was confirmed Tuesday as the work of Africanized honey bees, the aggressive variety that have become known as killer bees. While these bees have been found 11 times before in Broward County, this is the first known incident in which they have stung anyone here.

Everyone who was stung in this incident recovered, including the dog, according to Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue. Africanized honeybees are the same species as their more docile cousins, European honeybees.

The physical differences are so subtle that it took a computer analysis of such attributes as wing length and the angle of certain veins to establish that Africanized bees were responsible for the Fort Lauderdale attack.

The sting of an Africanized bee is no more dangerous than that of an ordinary bee. But Africanized bees are far more aggressive in attacking people near their nests and seizing territory from other bees.

Since arriving in Florida five years ago, they have spread through most of the peninsula, and experts expect them to be found soon throughout the state. Because it would be impossible to eradicate them, agricultural scientists and emergency response officials are trying to learn to live with them.

"Africanized bees dominate any environment," said Gerald Hayes, an assistant bureau chief responsible for bees in the Florida Department of Agriculture. "In South Florida, we're seeing this transition. They're spreading. They're spreading to suburban areas. Barbecue grills. Mailboxes. You're going to see more interactions with the public, pets, livestock. They love water meter boxes. They might be able to get into your attic. We're finding them under overturned flower pots."

Emergency responders are learning how to deal with them. While a bee discovery in Miami Gardens in 2005 left firefighters fleeing with bees inside their protective suits, firefighters are now establishing procedures for handling bee incidents.

Fort Lauderdale has sent some firefighters to classes and spread information on how to deal with the bees. In handling the swarm last month, firefighters used a chemical foam normally used to suppress fires involving aviation fuel but found to be effective in killing bees, said Steve McInerny, assistant Fort Lauderdale fire chief.

"It's an incident that certainly is a lesson to make our people aware that the bees are here in Broward," he said.Credit for bringing us these aggressive, stinging insects belongs to a researcher who brought African bees to Brazil in 1956 and crossbred them with European honeybees. Released into the wild the next year, they began swiftly spreading northward.

U.S. officials tried to erect a barrier of nets and traps along the Panama Canal, but the bees got through. They reached Texas in 1990 and Florida in 2002, with the first sighting reported in Tampa.

In 2005, they stung a city meter reader in Port St. Lucie and stung a horse to death in Hendry County. They stung goats and sheep to death last year in Boca Raton. To monitor the bees, agriculture officials have set about 500 traps around the state, particularly near ports that handle ships from other countries. As pollinators, the bees perform a useful service, agriculture officials said. What's important is for people to learn to respect and live with them.

"It's not like we're trying to eradicate them," said Mark Fagan, spokesman for the state agriculture department in South Florida. "They perform well in our type of climate. They get called killer bees, but they're not exactly killer bees. They're very aggressive in defending their territory."

Just as Floridians have learned to live with the state's other forms of wildlife, which can arrange from annoying to deadly, they can learn to live with the bees, said Hayes, the state's bee expert.

"We certainly don't need it," he said. "But then again, South America and Mexico haven't dropped off the map and neither will the United States. Eventually this will become background noise, like fire ants and poisonous snakes."


CAPE MAN CRITICAL AFTER BEES ATTACK

 

A Cape Coral man was hospitalized on a ventilator Monday after he was attacked by a swarm of angry bees, and his daughter doesn't know whether he's going to live.

Jeffrey Brauner, 47, was working in the backyard of the home he shares with daughter Amber Koester, 30, at 2213 S.W. 1st Ave. The house is behind Cape Coral High School. Koester's 16-year-old daughter also lives there.

Koester said she awoke to hear her father screaming for his wife, who died two years ago.

His daughter said she could hear the humming as she approached the front door. When Koester opened it, she found her father covered with bees.

Horrified, she slammed the door and dialed 911. Koester is allergic to bees.

Firefighters arrived immediately and sprayed water on Brauner to try to remove the bees, Koester said. It didn't work. They had to strip Brauner's clothes and, with gloved hands, get the bees off him, according to Koester.

"I've never seen bees so aggressive in my life," Koester said.

She's not sure whether her father did something to provoke the bees. She can't ask him what he did.

"He's nonresponsive," she said.

According to the fire department, Brauner received five stings, city spokeswoman Connie Barron said.

Brauner, like his daughter, is allergic to the stings.

People with severe allergies to stings can suffer multiple symptoms in rapid succession — a condition known as anaphylaxis.

The victim may experience an outbreak of hives, a drop in blood pressure and dizziness and/or difficulty breathing.

Brauner also is terminally ill with cirrhosis — the same condition that killed his wife, his daughter said.

Monday night, Brauner was listed in critical condition at Cape Coral Hospital.

The bees may have been Africanized, a highly aggressive strain of bees sometimes known as "killer bees."

B. Keith Councell, the beekeeper called to remove the hive, said he is sending DNA samples to two different labs to find out.

Councell estimated the hive — about 3 feet-by-2 feet in dimension — was home to 40,000 to 50,000 bees.

"Just the comb alone filled two 5-gallon buckets," Councell said.

He spent the afternoon trying to remove the bees from Koester's house and property. She planned to spend the night in a hotel with her daughter.

The school district's public information office received no complaints about the bees interfering with the neighboring high school.

If the bees are Africanized, it would not be surprising.

Africanized honeybees first appeared in Florida four years ago, apparently entering through a Hillsborough County port.

They have since been spotted in 18 counties, including Lee, and their numbers are expected to grow.

In 2002, 8 percent of DNA samples sent to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were Africanized. Last year, 40 percent of the samples turned out to be from Africanized bees.

Koester said she had tried calling the city and Lee County Animal Control, which contracts with Cape Coral, several times during the past two months to try to get the hive removed.

Barron said no department in the city is in the business of removing bees.

Koester said in spite of her father's terminal illness, he was expected to live for a few more years.

"I think I'm just in shock right now," Koester said. "For him to pass away over this ... it's beyond me."


 

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4 workers stung by likely killer bees

 

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A swarm of Africanized honeybees repeatedly stung four men who were working on a suburban Boynton Beach farm Tuesday, officials suspect.

The victims told paramedics they were working at about 12:25 p.m. in a cucumber field near the 9900 block of West Boynton Beach Boulevard when they were suddenly set upon by a swarm of bees, said Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue Capt. Don Delucia.

Known for their unusual aggressiveness compared with their European counterparts, Africanized honeybees are sometimes referred to as "killer bees."

As is the case with other farms in suburban Boynton Beach, European honeybee hives are kept near the cucumber field where the men were stung, Delucia said. The bees help to pollinate crops.

But, because the men said they were accustomed to working alongside these hives and because Africanized honeybees are known to build nests near European honeybee colonies, fire rescue workers said they treated the incident as a killer bee attack.

"We're surmising they might have disturbed or gotten near an Africanized honeybee colony," Delucia said of the workers, adding that it's unusual for European honeybees to attack so many people at once.

The men were taken to Wellington Regional Medical Center and Bethesda Memorial Hospital, Delucia said.

The incident was among the first suspected Africanized honeybee attacks in Palm Beach County this year, said Ron Rice of the county extension agency.

"I've heard of almost no attacks," said Rice, who put on an Africanized honeybee training seminar for Boca Raton city employees in November.

However, he noted, brushes with Africanized honeybees are becoming more frequent across South Florida.

Even so, Palm Beach County doesn't have its own localized plan for following up on killer bee attacks.

Rice said the county is supposed to follow the state's standard operating procedure, which calls for employees to back away from the bees and call their supervisors, who are then supposed to hire a professional exterminator.

In practice, though, who is supposed to do what when it comes to killer bee incidents was less clear. Rice said he didn't know whose responsibility it was to alert an exterminator about possible Africanized honeybees at the cucumber farm.

As for the fire-rescue workers, Delucia said they loaded the men onto ambulances and then got out of there.


"Killer Bees" Swarm in South Florida

 

So-called killer bees have attacked a farm worker, killed a goat and a sheep and injured several other animals in an April 14 attack in South Florida.
Officials say the incident near Fort Lauderdale almost certainly involved aggressive Africanized honeybees that have been in Florida since 2002, but which began to spread more quickly last summer, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Monday.

Closely resembling European honeybees, the Africanized bees swarm more often and fiercely defends the hive, perceiving any disturbance as a threat. Officials have advised people who encounter the "killer" bees to RUN -- with upper case letters and exclamation points -- to a safe area, the newspaper said.

John Capinera, chairman of the University of Florida's entomology department, said people should assume they are dealing with an Africanized bee if the insect is acting aggressively.

Jerry Hayes, chief of the aviary section for Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Plant Industry, told the Sun-Sentinel: "They've dominated South America and Mexico. There's no reason that they won't do the same thing in Florida and the Southeast."

Copyright 2006 by United Press International


Killer bees feeling right at home

 

As Africanized honeybees settle in Florida, residents need to be cautious, experts warn

To South Florida's tally of nerve-wracking critters — fire ants, scorpions, venomous snakes, alligators — add the killer bee.

Actually, the Africanized honeybee, which gets a bad rap for its feisty attitude and occasional deadly attacks, has already made itself at home in South Florida's subtropical climate. Last summer, angry clouds of Africanized bees stung a horse to death in LaBelle, sent a slew of people to the hospital near Miami and killed a dog in Sarasota.

The bees have settled in for good and people are going to have to be more cautious, said Jerry Hayes, assistant bureau chief of apiary inspection for Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

But no need to panic and don't put the pest control company on speed dial, area beekeepers said. While Hayes warned that people should assume all feral honeybees are Africanized, beekeepers said dousing a hive with insecticides could do more harm than good.

Insecticides tend to disperse Africanized bees, rather than eradicate them. Also, the more that European honey bees are killed out of fear, the more room becomes available for their aggressive competitors.

"Between 1994 and the year 2000, a lot of interest was shown to the Africanized bees. People lost interest because nothing outrageous was happening," said Carroll Rhodes, a Fort Myers beekeeper. "All the time the bees were actually here, but nobody was paying attention. Nobody was caring and now they want to kill off all the bees."

A colony of suspects

At the edge of a west Lee County golf course on Tuesday, a quivering mass of honeybees congregated in the crook of a tree, just feet from an elderly couple's screened pool. The bees, about 15,000 of them, formed a tight, football-sized swarm that never wavered as Rhodes approached and plucked a female from the cluster.

Grasping the bee between his thumb and forefinger and enduring its sting without a flinch, Rhodes pointed to its abdomen. He said the bee's first abdominal section was smaller and the sting "hotter" than that of the European bees he encounters every day.

Rhodes said he suspects the honeybees are Africanized.

Without DNA testing, discerning an Africanized bee from a European bee is next to impossible. The only real tell-tale sign is attitude. Without disrupting a hive, judging a bee's character is tough.

Swarms — massive clumps of bees that temporarily reside in the open while scoping out a place to hive — are generally calm, regardless of whether the bees are Africanized or European, because they don't have honey stores or baby bees to protect.

Just like the European bees, which were introduced to North America by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, Africanized bees make honeycombs and produce honey. They also follow a rigid social structure, with a perpetually pregnant queen, a mob of female worker bees and a handful of male drones.

The big difference is that European honeybees are pretty mellow when it comes to life and Africanized bees exhibit the worst Type A behavior.

"They're like the honeybees we all grew up with, only on steroids," said local beekeeper B. Keith Councell. "They're like somebody (who) drank two to three pots of coffee."

Africanized bees reproduce to form an average of 16 new hives a year. Their less virile relatives form two to three. The African variety spend less time making honey, less time eating, and more time raising young and seeking out new places to nest. They're also tidy workaholics that never fear the use of brutal force when they perceive a threat to their queen and the spotless hive they've manufactured.

All honeybees wield a powerful stinger to defend their nests, but European bees will investigate a threat more thoroughly before launching an attack. When European bees do attack, they do so with less vigor. Someone who disturbs a European hive might get away with a couple dozen stings. Someone who disturbs an Africanized hive would be lucky to escape with a couple hundred stings.

Since Africanized bees made their presence known in the United States 16 years ago, in the south Texas town of Hidalgo, fewer than 20 people have been stung to death.

A scientific experiment gone awry in 1957 led to the introduction of African honeybees in the Americas. Geneticists, hoping to boost pollination and crop production in Brazil, planned to tap the genes that gave the African bees tolerance of warm climates. The African bee added weather tolerance to the brood of its European counterparts, but the hybrids also inherited every bit of their relatives' short temper.

While the bee project was under way, a laboratory assistant accidentally left open a slat in a box where 26 African queens resided. The bees escaped and their offspring are now terrorizing people from Brazil to Florida. Later this year, scientists expect the bees to settle down in Georgia as well.

Rhodes returned to the suspect swarm Tuesday afternoon, armed with a bee box, a smoker full of pine needles and a little plastic trap for the queen. After he found the queen and secured her in the bee box, all the bees migrated to their new mobile home and Rhodes carted them off in his pickup.

He said he walked away with fewer stings than he anticipated.

If DNA tests confirm the bees have African genes, Rhodes will euthanize the queen and her emerging male drones.

Replacing the queen interrupts the spread of the aggressive genetics because the queen is the only female that reproduces. Although only about one in 100,000 male honeybees get the honor of mating with a queen, Africanized drones are more competitive when it comes to reproduction.

When Rhodes replaces the queen with a European from his own stock, the Africanized worker bees will devote their short lives to rearing their rivals. Queens mate once, but live for up to three years producing offspring from that single mating session. All the other bees live for about 40 days.

Preventing Africanized bees from taking over

The key to keeping the fierce bees in check is making sure there are plenty of friendly European honeybees around, said Rhodes, Councell and beekeeper Allen Walker, of Walker Farms in Fort Myers.

Hayes said the beekeepers are correct, but he warned that only the most experienced bee managers should attempt to convert a hive. A beekeeper in California died that way, Hayes said.

Hayes said municipalities should welcome and encourage beekeeping to help keep the population of European bees strong. Without competition, the Africanized bees will spread at a faster pace.

But while Hayes promotes beekeeping, he said people should assume that any feral honeybee hive is full of Africanized bees.

"Any bees not associated with managed colonies should be suspect and should be considered for eradication," Hayes said. "The message is we need a lot of beekeepers, but we don't need something that we don't know that can be dangerous in the environment."

Area beekeepers disagree.

Councell, Rhodes and Walker said the state's knee-jerk approach to bee management will only lead to hysteria and the extermination of feral bees that aren't posing any dangers.

"If we go out there and kill all the feral colonies, then the only bees we will have left is Africanized bees," Rhodes said.

Rhodes has come across Africanized hives in the area, but he said most of the feral bee colonies he removes are European.

On Tuesday morning, Rhodes spent about two hours removing a hive from a prefabricated wall slated to go in a Habitat for Humanity home. The walls for the house were stacked in a pile, ready to be shipped out from the nonprofit's regional headquarters in North Fort Myers. European honeybees had built a 3-foot-long hive between two studs inside the top wall.

Using a jack, Rhodes lifted the wall to expose the hive. He removed uniform chunks of honeycomb that were covered in bees and oozing nectar, all the while pumping smoke throughout the work area. Each time he removed a piece of the hive, he shook the bees off the comb at the narrow opening of his bee box. While bees encircled him, he worked methodically, scooping cupfuls of bees from the hive and dumping them onto the clump of bees at the box entrance.

When he found the queen, he marked her head with a white dot, stuck her in a plastic container and affixed the container inside the bee box. Within minutes, the mound of bees started to shrink as they migrated into the box after their leader.

Several people gathered just a few feet from the hive to watch Rhodes in action. Had the bees been Africanized, the scene would have been quite different. Everyone watching Rhodes would have been stung and Rhodes would have had to wear protective gear, he said.

Along with the bee boxes and honeycombs in the back of Rhodes' pickup sits a shop vacuum that he uses when encountering hostile bees. From a recent job in Fort Myers, the vacuum cavity was full of dead bees that Rhodes said were probably Africanized, based on their aggressive behavior.

Economically, Africanized bees are less beneficial. They don't produce as much honey, they pollinate crops less efficiently and their temper makes them much more difficult to maintain.

Beekeepers and farmers who rely on honeybees to pollinate crops have the biggest stake in making sure European bees are not pushed out by their invasive competition.

Councell, who voluntarily removes bee hives, said eradicating hives with pesticides works maybe 10 percent of the time. More often than not, he said, the bees successfully fan off the insecticide from the queen. The bees that survive take off with the queen and find a new home and cause trouble for someone else.

Unless the pest control company removes the waxy honeycomb, the dead bees will rot along with the comb, the nectar and the honey inside it. The stench will not only foul the surroundings, but attract other vermin.

To top it all off, chances are honeybees will return to the same location the following year, no matter how they were removed. A lingering scent tells swarming bees that previous hive sites are prime real estate.

As much as area beekeepers are trying to stave off an all-out invasion of Africanized bees, they recognize that everyone in Florida will have to learn to live with them. That means people will have to change the way they react to bees.

"The human natural response is to swat that bee," Councell said. "We're going to have to change that to where your first response is to turn and run."

What to do if Africanized bees attack:

• Run away in a zigzag pattern or through tall brush. Africanized bees fly at about 10 to 15 mph and will pursue a threat for up to a quarter mile.

• Seek shelter in an enclosed car or structure.

• Cover your head because bees attack the face and neck first. Don't try to shake bees off by moving your head or the bees will get stuck in your hair. Use your shirt if you have nothing else to cover your head.

• Don't jump in water. The bees will wait up to 30 minutes for you to surface and then they'll attack again.

• Never swat at the bees.

• If a vacuum with a hose is handy, it works great at sucking bees away from a victim.