Sunday, April 29, 2012

Heads Up in Southwest: Killer Bees

There appear to be more reports in the Southwest this spring of swarming "Africanized bees," also known as killer bees. But the bee and honey industry would just as soon you not think about that.

Because the noble honey bee, you see, is Our Friend.  No argument there.

Nevertheless, beware when traveling outdoors in places where populations of not-so-noble killer bee are growing. They're becoming more of an issue with climate change.

The nasty, dangerous pests are extremely aggressive, and attack without warning. People are encountering them more often these days on desert and mountain trails.  The bees are very similar to honeybees except that they are monstrously aggressive and attack in  big swarms, sometimes numbering in the thousands. Once they attack, they tend not to relent. Also, in parts of the country, the common European honeybee is disappearing and being replaced by the Africanized killer bee.

An unfortunate encounter with a swarm -- and they'll chase a person for a half mile -- can lead to the hospital or .... bzzzzzzz .. the morgue.

They came to our Southwest originally thanks to some nitwits who imported them from Africa and bred them in Brazil (no further comment, vide), and then the pests made their way up through South America and Central American, through Mexico, and then into Texas. In parts of the south and Southwest, they've decimated native populations of docile European honeybees, mostly through mating with them.

Best advice to avoid Africanized bees: Ask the locals (or Park Rangers, if appropriate) where the known hives and nests are. Trust me, they'll know.

I love this advice on on what to do if you encounter a swarm:

"-- Do not jump into the pool. The bees will wait until you surface for air to attack

--If you are attacked by bees, run away. Don't play dead or swat at the bees. Most people can outrun the bees, but you might have to run a few blocks...."

Even more amusing is this advice on WikiHow (epmhasis mine):

"...Hollywood hype came up with the `killer bee' term, owing to the ferocity of the bees when riled. While Africanized honey bees are very defensive and easily provoked,   they are generally not a threat to humans provided they are not riled. ..."

Oh, swell. Do not rile the "easily provoked" bees! It's well known that killer bees define provocation in somewhat extreme terms, such as someone accidentally wandering within 100 yards or so of what they regard as their turf. These bees would not make good urban citizens.

ABC News, which often exhibits the amazing ability to be both unreliably alarmist and unreliably reassuring at the same time, quotes a bee expert here in a story about the threat of killer bees. The bee expert calls being swarmed and stung a "bee encounter," rather than an attack, and dismisses the danger, saying that only about 40 people a year die from bee stings.  (The survivors, I assume, merely suffer miserably, but without creating inconveniently high mortality statistics for the bee lobby).

One note to consider on ABC's "bee expert," an etymologist at  the University of Illinois named May Berenbaum. ABC and others who quote Dr. Berenbaum being so reassuring about bees and the people they kill never note that she is also the author of a book extolling the virtues of honey, "Honey, I'm Homemade! Sweet Treats from the Beehive Across the Centuries and Around the World."

The publisher's blurb says: "More than a cookbook, Honey, I'm Homemade is a tribute to the remarkable work of Apis mellifera, the humble honey bee whose pollination services allow three-quarters of all flowering plant species to reproduce and flourish. ..."

The bee world manifestly has an interest in extolling the virtues of European honey bees, and does not like to discuss killer bees and how to guard against them, though. Instead, the bee lobby has a tendency to ridicule concerns about Africanized bees.

This is an issue, because the problem of eradicating them, or at least minimizing their danger in various places, thus does not get addressed openly and honestly. 

Here, by the way, is some actually well-informed and useful advice from Saguaro National Park in Tucson about killer bee attacks: Basically, if swarmed and attacked with multiple stings, run away, don't flail arms, cover head, seek medical attention, and report the attack and location to park rangers.

By the way, homeowners who encounter them on their property and try to find remedies in the stores will run into a dilemma. The beekeeper world, it appears, has a lobby that discourages stores from selling insecticide that might deal with bees. Instead, what you'll find is a nice selection of wasp, horney and yellowjacket killing agents, but none labeled for killing bees. Most of the products -- bien pensant -- advise you that honeybees are beneficial.

The bee-keepers lobby advises us, citing no evidence at all, that "deaths by bee sting are extremely rare." Note the bee expert's figure of 40 deaths a year from bee stings, but the lack of sourcing for same. Still. imagine if there were 40 deaths a year from killer wolves. We'd sure be talking about how to handle that problem!

Actually, hospitalizations and even  deaths from swarming killer-bee stings are not so rare these days  -- and docile European honey-bee populations are disappearing as the killer bees take over in the Southwest and parts of the South.

Killer bees are basically the same as European honey bees, except for their murderous Einsatzgruppen behavioral patterns of attacking relentlessly, en masse.  

Evidently, the bee lobby, which is closely tied to the artisnal honey business, thinks we all can live with Africanized killer bees. Even in places like deserts where large populations of bees don't really belong.

Me, I can more easily live without honey, thank you very much.

Which is why I'm in the market for a flamethrower.


1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Maybe you can live without honey but I think you are placing too little importance on the benefits of bees for polinization and the resultant genetic diversity of thousands of types of plants. Of course if you only want your food to come from genetically engineered Monsanto crops where reusing seed from year to year is punishable by law, I suppose it's okay...