Killer bees cause buzz

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Emergency responders from the Clovis fire and police department were officially introduced Tuesday to a rising threat — Africanized honeybees.
At least one colony of the bees is nesting on the fringe of Curry County, according to Les Owen, an agent from the Curry County Cooperative Extensive Service of NMSU.

Last week, Lewis Hightower, owner of Southwestern Pest Control, said a strain of Africanized, or “killer bees,” were confirmed residents of mid-Clovis.

Though barely discernible from European honeybees, Africanized honeybees are — unlike their western hemisphere counterparts — a monumental threat.

“They get their name not from what one bee can do, but from the fact that they attack with such aggression and in such numbers,” said Clovis Fire Department Public Information Officer Karen Burns, who partnered with Owens to educate emergency responders on the threat of Africanized honeybees.

According to Owen and Burns, 15,000 stings from killer bees are lethal. A typical killer bee colony has 10,000 to 50,000 members.

A colony can issue a lethal dose in minutes, they said.

“Africanized honeybees swarm more frequently and with more aggression than European bees. … They put on a chase and they carry a grudge,” said Owen, comparing the sound of an attacking colony to the rumble of a freight train.

The bees can fit through an opening the size of a pencil eraser and nest, creating honeycomb havens, which wind through almost any surface, including roofs, walls, and chimneys.

Owens said the bees will eventually inch throughout New Mexico, although they are concentrated in a southern swath of the state currently.

Africanized bees gained a foothold in North America as a result of a mishap, according to Owen. He said a Brazilian geneticist brought the insects to South America to experiment with honey production. Some Africanized queen bees escaped.

The first report of Africanized bees in North America came from Hidalgo, Texas in 1990. Three years later, Africanized bees were discovered in New Mexico.

Emergency responders have “no way” of knowing whether killer bees will be a serious threat this spring and summer, said Clovis Police Lt. Mike Ingram, an attendee of Tuesday’s session on killer bees.

But Tuesday’s session, the first in a series which will be held at the Clovis fire and police department for officials this week, addressed preventative measures and common sense approaches for emergency responders, who would likely be front-line defenders in a bee attack.

Proper attire and chemical agents which kill the bees were discussed during the session.

Information for the public will be posted on the city of Clovis Web site at a later date, Burns said.

“We want everyone to just be aware,” Burns said. “We know (Africanized bees) are here.”