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AFRICANIZED 'KILLER' BEES


'Killer bees' confirmed in two Valley locations
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 10, 1999.

By MICHAEL BITTON
Valley Press Staff Writer

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At least two hives of Africanized honey bees, also known as "killer bees," have been identified in the Antelope Valley.

A swarm of bees that attacked an animal control worker in California City three weeks ago are Africanized honey bees, DNA tests have shown, as are bees trapped recently, without incident, at a westside Palmdale home by the Antelope Valley Vector Control District.

DNA results released on Wednesday confirmed the insects to be killer bees, said Oscar Hidalgo, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Gary Mork, Los Angeles County Agricultural Inspector for the Antelope Valley, also confirmed the Palmdale killer bee find.

Jack Marks, deputy agriculture commissioner for Kern County, confirmed the California City bees as killer bees.

"It's here, and we're going to learn to live with the bees," Marks said.

Marks said he came into contact with Africanized honey bees in 1985 while working on a killer bee find in Lost Hills.

"They seemed just like regular bees," Marks said. European honey bees are the more common and more docile bees most Americans are used to seeing, he said.

Africanized bees look very much like their European counterparts, but are far more aggressive when irritated, Marks said.

California City Fire Chief Michael Antonucci Jr., who said he has been preparing for the arrival of the bees for months, tipped off county officials that the attack may have been the work of killer bees. "Our Animal Control officer was three feet away from the wall when they swarmed," Antonucci said. "He ran 50 feet before they got him."

Antonucci said killer bees seek carbon dioxide to plant their stingers. Carbon dioxide seeps from all human cavities, including the eyes, ears and mouth, Antonucci said. The animal control officer was stung in the ear and around the face.

"Because they chased him so far, and because of where he was stung, it set off a red light to me," Antonucci said.

Residents of the Neuralia Road apartment building, some of whom were allergic to bees, were evacuated while the stinging fliers were exterminated.

In initial tests, bee specimens were dissected and their body parts measured. That process showed an 80% probability the bees were, in fact, killer bees, Antonucci said. That test triggered the DNA testing.

Antonucci said the confirmed arrival of killer bees is nothing to panic about.

"Your chances of meeting a rattlesnake out here are higher than running into killer bees," he said.

But, he added, some precautions are in order.

Because the California City area is now considered colonized, people have to treat all bees as possible killer bees. From now on, when bees are encountered, they should be left alone, Antonucci said.

A tip familiar for fire prevention also applies to killer bee control: Clear your property within 50 feet of your home.

Leaky pipes are another draw for killer bee nests, which need lots of water. Holes that could allow a bee into your home should also be plugged, Antonucci said.

It was a drainage ditch dug too close to the apartment building's foundation that allowed the killer bees to set up operations in California City, Antonucci said.

"The apartment walls were very moist, and it was a low area," the fire chief said. Experts say Africanized honey bees like low spots, like water meters and abandoned cars, for their hives.

Antonucci said the bees covered the inside walls of three apartments, and that the honeycombs were three and four feet tall.

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Bees invade apartments Swarm forces evacuation of Palmdale complex residents This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 23, 1999. By BART WEITZEL Valley Press Staff Writer

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PALMDALE - A large swarm of bees invaded an east Palmdale apartment complex Tuesday afternoon, forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents. It is impossible to determine by just looking whether the bees are the aggressive Africanized honeybees that are also sometimes known as killer bees. To be safe, firefighters evacuated nearby apartments and called in a crew from the Los Angeles County Department of Mosquito and Vector Control to remove the insects.

The original 911 caller said someone had been stung, but rescue personnel couldn't find the victim when they arrived.

The swarm was reported in a tree at the Longhorn Pavilion apartment complex on 25th Street East south of Avenue S. When firefighters from the Los Angeles County Fire Department arrived, they discovered a "pineapple-sized" swarm hanging from a pine tree on the east side of the complex.

In an odd twist of fate, firefighters watched as the complex's automatic sprinkler system turned on and sprayed directly into the swarm.

"It was amazing," said Capt. Ted Linden of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "The water hit the hive just perfectly and split it in half."

Linden said when the water hit the swarm, the queen bee moved to the apartment buildings and the others swarmed around her again underneath a dryer exhaust vent on Building P.

Buildings P, Q and R, 24 apartments in all, were evacuated until the bees could be removed.

"They told us we just have to leave for a couple of hours," resident Shonnette Thomason said. "They said there was no real danger, but we had to leave just to be safe."

When Vector Control arrived, most of the bees had moved to the apartment building. Vector Control handles the removal of bees, but only on public property. Once the bees moved to private property, the property owner had to call in an exterminator.

The two officers from vector control set a trap for the remaining bees in the tree. The trap consists of a paper carton that looks like a Chinese take-out container. A small vial containing the pheromones of a queen bee is attached to the lid of the trap; in the bottom is pesticide. The bees, which are attracted by the smell of the queen, die at the bottom of the trap.

Karen Mellor of Vector Control said she would have to take specimens of the bees back and measure their average size. She explained that Africanized bees have wings that are about 1 millimeter smaller than normal honeybees.

"Even in the few cases of real Africanized honeybees that we have come across, most of the ones that we have seen have not been that aggressive," she said.

An informational pamphlet published by Vector Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture explains that the "killer" reputation of the Africanized bees is exaggerated. The Africanized bee has the same venom as normal European honeybees and usually only attacks when provoked.

The Africanized bee gained its reputation because it will protect a larger area around its nest, will pursue an enemy for a quarter mile or more and responds to threats quickly and in large numbers.

It is a good rule of thumb to stay away from all honeybee swarms and to check your home for possible nesting sites. Some common areas are sheds, empty boxes, old tires, garages and other outdoor buildings, crawl spaces and low decks.

People have been attacked mowing their lawn because the bees felt threatened by the vibrations from the machinery. The pamphlet advises to check the area before beginning yardwork and be cautious in any area where there might be a nest.


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