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No Africanized Insects Found In First Hives Checked

July 27, 1985

LOST HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ Scientists testing honeybee hives near the first U.S. ″killer bee″ colony have found none of the aggressive intruders, while farm leaders say the infestation poses a serious threat to agriculture.

State, federal and county workers Friday checked 36 of the 110 commercial beekeeping operations, containing more than 5,000 hives, near the oil field where the bees were found last month. Only domestic bees were found, said the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

The bees were given the ″quick and dirty″ test of stirring them up to check for aggression, said state Associate Agricultural Director Rex Magee. But the honeybees, plus a bee colony found in a tree, quieted too quickly to be the more aggressive Africanized honeybees.

The Africanized bees, known popularly as ″killer bees″ because of their aggressive behavior when threatened, were found in the ground last month by an oil-field worker near Lost Hills, 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

Dead bees found in the burrow were identified this week as Africanized bees related to insects, a cross between African queen bees and domestic males, that escaped in 1957 from a research project in Brazil.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has warned that the bees could arrive by 1990.

Scientists dug up a huge comb and theorized that at least two queens with swarms of up to 25,000 bees each could have fled the burrow last month.

The ″killer bees″ threaten major crops, which rely on honeybees for pollination, said Henry Voss, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. He said 21 fruit and nut crops and 20 vegetable seed crops, worth a total of $2 billion, use bee pollination.

African bees can invade a bee hive and kill the domestic, European honeybees. They are harder for beekeepers to handle and do not pollinate as many crops, ignoring tomatoes, bee experts say.

″The threat to humans is considered minimal in comparison to the danger the more aggressive ‘Africanized’ bees pose to agriculture,″ Voss said.

Besides checking commercial bee hives, workers are spending the weekend going door-to-door to talk with residents in a 400-square-mile area around the discovery. Residents are being asked if they have seen any unusual swarming activity.

Officials are also setting up more than 100 traps, consisting of pieces of used hives or combs, to try to lure the African bees.

Meanwhile, searchers will maintain a quarantine that has halted beekeepers’ movement of any commercial bees in the area. Hives that are found to be free of African bees will be eventually moved from the quarantine area.

″We must get all the domesticated bees out,″ said Len Foote of the Department of Food and Agriculture. ″We hope to be able to test and have the beekeepers remove them.″

Foote acknowledged that if methods of identifying African bees fail, thousands of domestic bees in Kern County might have to be destroyed.

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