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SALT LAKE CITY — Africanized honeybees, known more commonly as killer bees, are spreading across parts of the United States, and are now calling areas of Utah home.
Eight counties now have documented accounts of killer bees with the most recent findings in Garfield and Emery counties in 2016.
"In May 2009, a hive was discovered in Cedar City and was removed by professionals," said Larry Lewis, public information officer for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. "Three people in Washington County have been documented as being attacked. Our concern then became, how far north could they go?"
How did Africanized bees get to Utah?
They were first imported to the Americas in 1956. The African bees, which were later discovered in the wild, quickly began spreading, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Within a few years, reports began coming in from surrounding areas of wild bees relentlessly attacking farm animals and even humans. Many Brazilian farmers suffered livestock losses, and there were human fatalities as well. By the 1960s, it was clear that feral killer bee colonies were expanding and moving quickly into other parts of the Americas.
Killer bees were first documented in the U.S. in October 1990 in Hidalgo, Texas, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. On Feb. 11, 2009, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food announced that Africanized honeybees had been confirmed in southern Utah.
Where have Africanized bees been documented in Utah?
Here are the other areas and dates where Africanized bees have been documented in Utah by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food:
- 2008 in Washington County
- 2009 in Kane and Iron County
- 2010 in San Juan County
- 2015 in Wayne and Grand counties
- 2016 in Garfield and Emery counties
“The extensive hive consisted of 150 pounds of wax comb and honey,” Burfitt said.
“It appears this hive was able to survive the cold winters of Cedar City because it sought shelter inside the walls of this residence,” Plant Industry director Clair Allen said in a statement. “We do not believe honeybees can survive Utah’s freezing temperatures in hives that are unprotected."
Each county has its own bee inspector, explained Lewis, and they are usually beekeepers themselves. When a complaint or report comes in, they immediately investigate.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food officials have been proactive and diligent with monitoring the killer bee situation, and Lewis said that trapping and testing are done each year.
What are Africanized honeybees?
Africanized honeybees are not easy to identify just by looks since they look exactly like the European honeybee. Most of the bees have to be identified in a lab because of the similarities. The Africanized honeybees don’t have more venom than regular honeybees, but they are more aggressive, and instead of a single bee chasing or attacking you, multiple bees and possibly the whole swarm will come after you if they feel threatened, Lewis said.
The Agricultural Research Service Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, is responsible for official identifications of Africanized honeybees, especially when the bees are found in new states.
How can you protect yourself?
United States Department of Agriculture officials offer a few tips to help you protect yourself from bee attacks. Bees live in hollow trees, rock cavities and occasionally even in the open on a tree or bush. While honeybees are usually docile, officials said to teach children to leave them alone and to create a bee safety plan with your children.
Listen for buzzing when entering an area that could possibly have a nest or swarm. Enter potential nesting sites such as sheds, old cars and garages carefully. When hiking or camping, avoid wearing dark clothing and cover your hair. If you take your dogs with you, keep them under control— dogs can disturb a nest and lead the bees back to you.
“If you are out in the middle of nowhere (or anywhere) and come upon a hive, back away, don’t do anything to harass a bee or hive: the Africanized honeybees are very protective of their hives," Lewis said. "You don’t want them to chase you. Don’t swat at them — this agitates them and if you injure a bee, the smell will summon other bees. Don’t jump into water; the AHB will wait for you. Run and don’t stop running whether the bees are Africanized or not until you can get in a vehicle, building or a protected area.”
For more information on Africanized honeybees in Utah, visit the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food website.
Becky Robinette Wright is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Virginia.