Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Wed, June 19

Fire chiefs: Let them 'bee'

PRESCOTT ­ Reports of bees killing a horse and a dog have surfaced in the tri-city area, along with those of firefighters rushing to their fire trucks to escape bee attacks during their attempts to remove a hive.

But no one knows for sure whether these at times ferocious insects are Africanized honey bees (killer bees) that scientists imported to Brazil in the '50s with the goal of cross-breeding them with local populations of honey bees to increase honey production.

Local fire departments and districts agree that without lab testing, it would be hard to differentiate killer bees from their less-hostile European relatives because their general appearances are the same.

The Encyclopedia Smithsonian Web site notes some distinctive physical differences between the two though a lab would have to measure and compare 20 different structures. Another way to check is to analyze the specimen's DNA and enzymes.

A pest control specialist attributes local bees' aggressiveness to the fact that they are a hybrid.

"Our bees are interbred with Africanized bees," said Naomi Barnett, office manager at Independent Pest Management Inc., a family-owned and -operated business.

Over the past several months, the company has dealt with several ferocious hives, Barnett said. The bees generally will attack humans and animals if they pose a threat to their queen or their home, she said. Warning signs, however, will exist if they are unhappy and people should leave the area at that point.

"If you leave them alone, they do not impose a threat," she said.

Africanized bees fly faster to get to their queen, she said. They are dangerous because they attack intruders in much greater numbers than honey bees.

According to the Encyclopedia Smithsonian Web site, since their introduction into Brazil, they have killed 1,000 humans, with victims receiving 10 times as many stings than from bees of the European strain.

Barnett said loud noises particularly will attract their attention, but she hasn't heard of a local case in which bees have chased down the victim. The killer bees, according to the Smithsonian, will chase a person a quarter of a mile and they react to disturbances 10 times faster than honey bees.

Barnett said people should run if they find themselves chased by the bees in an open field. Otherwise, look for shelter.

She recalled two animal deaths related to the bee attacks. In both instances, she said, the animals were restrained in their barn and kennel with no chances to flee.

Local fire departments will not kill the bees unless they present some danger to humans and animals.

"They are good for pollinating so we don't like to kill them unless they are hazardous," Central Yavapai Fire District Fire Marshal Charlie Cook said.

Firemen use a foam solution to kill the bees, Cook said, but some pest control companies use dish soap in a pressurized water can to get rid of them.

"It absorbs through their body and kills them," he said.

Chino Valley Fire District Capt. Mark Ducote said when the bees are aggressive they scatter everywhere and "the foam is not really effective."

Barnett said if people have pollinating bees and no hives in their yards, they should leave them alone.

"They are a necessary part of our environment," she said.

Contact the reporter at mburic@prescottaz.com

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