Despite swarm, killer bees not on attack

By Joseph Altman Jr.

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Department of Risk Management has not requested any tests be done to identify the swarm of more than 500 bees exterminated on campus Friday.

An exterminator was called to remove the swarm found resting on the back of a Mazda pickup truck south of Apache-Santa Cruz Residence Hall, 1420 E. Fifth St., and told police he was almost certain they were killer bees.

Steve Holland, Risk Management's director, said there have been other reports of bees on campus occasionally, but there has not been any evidence that the UA campus is under siege by Africanized bees, known as "killer bees."

"The general wisdom today is to be cautious any time there is a bee swarm," Holland said. "We treat all bee swarms as being Africanized bees."

Eric Erickson, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, said swarms like the one on campus are "an occasional thing" but will occur more frequently than they have in the past.

Erickson estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 unmanaged Africanized bee colonies in Tucson. So far this year, more than 325 colonies have been found in water meter boxes in the city, he said. Before Africanized bees reached the United States, there were only five or six reports of colonies found in meter boxes, he said.

Africanized bees, which are a strain of honey bees that have traveled from South America, build up more rapidly and swarm more frequently, Erickson said. The colonies are also of a highly defensive nature.

"They're sensitive to odors, they're sensitive to sounds, they're sensitive to vibrations," Erickson said. "If you get near a colony and disturb them, they're going to come out and defend themselves."

A Tempe woman died earlier this month after being stung by more than 1,000 Africanized bees. Erickson said she didn't see the colony nesting in her shed and was attacked when she slammed the door.

"The colonies are cryptic," Erickson said. "People don't see them, and it's easy to disturb what they can't see."

Since it is impossible to differentiate between normal honey bees and Africanized bees by their appearance, Erickson said, it is important to be more careful.

"People need to have a little greater awareness of their surroundings so they know if they have a colony on their property," he said.

According to the Department of Agriculture's Africanized honey bee hotline, people should not disturb bee colonies and should have them removed by a professional as soon as possible.

Holland said the UA has a mechanism in place to bring in a private contractor when bee problems are discovered on campus. He said there are no ongoing preventive measures on campus, however.

Holland did not know the exact number of bee incidents reported on campus.

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