Emergency Management Office
Africanized Honey Bees

THE AFRICANIZED HONEY BEE

THEIR ARRIVAL INTO THE RIVERSIDE AREA

January 11, 1999
Carmen Nieves

When we think of "Killer Bees" we often have images of Hollywood movies, where massive black swarms of angry bees are scouring the countryside looking for innocent victims to kill. As the bees are doing their "dastardly deed" we can imagine hundreds of people trying to escape their forever clinching stingers.

This, of course, is far from the truth. Unfortunately, the public will believe the Hollywood version. Fear will be a major part of how the "Killer Bee" is dealt with and why community education will be very vital.

This report will bring you up to date on what has been done and what needs to be done in dealing with this problem.

First, the "Killer Bees" name is the Africanized Honey Bee and has been around for a long, long time. For the last 30 years they have been in South and Central America. They have been slowly progressing north into California. The Africanized Honey Bee has colonized 33,820 square miles in California. This includes the counties of San Diego, Imperial, San Bernardino and Riverside. Their movements during 1998 doubled the size of the colonized area. The bees are migrating naturally and there is no way to eradicate them. The bees have been moving a lot during the winter of 1998, which is really unusual. Whereas the European Honey Bee will only move five to seven times per year, the AHB will move 12 to 15 times. Some of the locations the bees have been found are Lake Havasu, the Colorado River in Blythe, Anza, Desert Hot Springs, Pinyon Flats, Whitewater/Banning area and Moreno Valley. The AHB found in Moreno Valley were located at the Moreno Valley School District on Perris Blvd. The bees had set up "shop" in a water valve. Once an AHB hive has been located, the County Agricultural Commission considers the area within a 20 mile radius to be colonized. Traps have been set up to keep track of the bees' colonization and to inform the public of their movement. Africanized Honey Bees will only take over a commercial hive that is weak or has no queens. These instances are very rare.

The Africanized Honey Bee does pose a threat to our community, our employees, and to California's agricultural industry. But it is a threat that will have to be dealt with. This will require some regulation, education, policies, preparation and funding. Safety is of the utmost importance. In Blythe, one man was stung 300 times and one was stung 600 times. Seven stings per pound is considered to be fatal. This has been the first reported Africanized Honey Bee attack on a human in Riverside County. The attack was a result of disturbing an Africanized Honey Bee nest while discing a field. The Africanized Honey Bee had made a nest in a pile of debris.

Medical problems have been experienced by people who have been numerously stung. These include, but are not limited to, poor eyesight and weakened muscles. There is one doctor in Texas who has made himself available to assist other doctors regarding numerous bee stings. He basically has become the Africanized Honey Bee Guru of Doctors.

The public and first responders need to be more aware of their surroundings especially in colonized areas. The response of the first responders will be one of caution. Police will set up perimeter and evacuation; fire personnel will rescue the victim(s); paramedics will treat; and animal control will get and treat any animals. Education will be vital.

WHO IS THIS BEE?

In brief, the Africanized Honey Bee is just another bee. It displays much of the same characteristics and behavior as its cousin and our current bee - the European Honey Bee. It is an important agricultural worker like its cousin: it makes honey and wax the same; it stings and dies; and its venom is the same. You cannot tell the two bees apart by sight alone.

The big difference is the Africanized Honey Bee is not intimated by people. They feel comfortable moving in and living in our human environment. They want what we have: flowers, trees, gardens, water and mostly nectar. The Africanized Honey Bee is very defensive and aggressive in protecting its hive and that is where the problem lies. They consider most things, including people, a threat and react by swarming and stinging. They can chase people up to a 1/4 mile. They will attack people, animals, and other threats up to fifty feet or more from their nest. Vibration and noisy equipment or people will be attacked at a hundred feet or more.

If a person was to disturb an Africanized Honey Bee hive they could be swarmed by hundreds of stinging bees. To some people one sting can be fatal; to others hundreds of bee stings can be fatal. People most at risk in our community are the elderly, disabled and children, all of whom are not able to run away quick enough from the stinging bees. Our employees who are required to deal with the Africanized Honey Bee (fire, police, field personnel) will also be at risk. Livestock, pets and other caged or penned animals will be at risk also if they are not able to run away from the angry bees.

WHAT IS BEING DONE?

The State of California has established a system of "Conditions." These are:
  • Condition 1:    Where the Africanized Honey Bee's arrival is ultimately expected and local governments along with the community, bee keepers and agricultural officials need to prepare.

  • Condition 2:    The arrival of the Africanized Honey Bee into Southern California, and more importantly in our city. As the Africanized Honey Bee arrives in individual cities, the County of Riverside will declare a Condition 2 in that City.

  • Condition 3:    The establishment of the Africanized Honey Bee. This means that all feral (wild)  bee hives and most domestic unkept hives will be Africanized Honey Bees. The entire County should be in this condition within one year.
Currently, Riverside County is considered to be in all three conditions:
  • Condition 3:    All of the Desert Area west of Banning Pass

  • Condition 2:    Most of Western Riverside County (Except for area below)

  • Condition 1:    Lake Elsinore South to San Diego and West of 215

BEE SAFETY TIPS:

  • Listen for buzzing indicating a nest or swarm of bees
  • Use care when entering sheds or outbuildings where bees may nest
  • Examine work area before using lawn mowers, weed cutters, and other power equipment
  • Examine areas before tying up or penning pets or livestock
  • Be alert when participating in all outdoor activities and sports
  • Don't disturb a nest or swarm- contact a pest control company or an emergency response organization
  • Teach children to be cautious and respectful of all bees
  • Check with a doctor about bee sting kits and procedures if sensitive to bee stings
  • Develop a safety plan for your home and yard
  • Organize a meeting to inform neighbors about the AHB to help increase neighborhood safety
  • If bees are encountered, run away quickly, protecting your face and eyes as much as possible
  • Take shelter in a car or building
  • Do not swat at bees; rapid motions will cause them to sting.

beeBEE-PROOFING YOUR HOME:

  • Remove possible nesting sites around home and yard
  • Inspect outside walls and eaves of home and outbuildings
  • Seal openings larger than 1/8" in walls, around chimneys and plumbing
  • Install fine screens (1/8" hardware cloth) over tops of rain spouts, vents, and openings in water/meter utility boxes
  • From spring to fall check once or twice a week for bees entering or leaving the same area of your home or yard

Riverside County has formed an Africanized Honey Bee Task Force in which Riverside is a part. Joan Breeding-Letbetter, Fire Department, and myself have been actively involved with this task force.

If you would like additional Africanized Honey Bee information please e-mail the Emergency Services Coordinator, Carmen Nieves at

CNIEVES@riversideca.gov