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Bees Prompt Emergency Plan, Quarantine

October 18, 1990

WESLACO, Texas (AP) _ Scientists have rushed to southern Texas to thwart the nation’s first invasion of ″killer″ bees across the Mexican border.

Officials on Wednesday slapped a quarantine on all bees in the area to keep the fierce Africanized ″killer″ bees from wiping out much of the domestically raised variety, which produces more honey and pollinates valuable crops.

A swarm of the Africanized bees was trapped Monday near the border city of Hidalgo in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, said Anita Collins, head researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Research Lab in Weslaco.

The swarm was later confirmed to be killer bees, she said. To the unaided eye, they look like other honeybees; they must be identified under the microscope.

Scientists headed to the area to check for Africanized bees in all managed hives and to look for any other wild swarms, said John G. Thomas, extension entomologist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service at College Station.

Africanized bees, hybrids descended from docile European bees and a vigorous African species, earned the ″killer″ nickname because of their highly defensive behavior. Upon a perceived threat to their nests, hundreds of the bees have been known to attack intruders and chase them for long distances.

Their sting is no worse than that of European bees commonly raised in the Americas, but their persistence and swarm attacks make them more dangerous. Several hundred people in Latin America have been killed by the bees.

The killer bees first escaped from a breeding experiment in Brazil in 1957 and have rapidly expanded their range since.

Several stowaway swarms have been trapped at U.S. ports aboard ships from Latin America, and one swarm arrived in California aboard a truck.

The bees trapped Monday are the first known to have made it to the border on their own, said James W. Glosser, administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Scientists have expected them since a swarm was trapped last November about 150 miles south of Brownsville in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. Hundreds of traps were placed to detect bees crossing the border.

Ms. Collins said the swarm caught Monday was taken alive in a trap baited with a natural chemical sex lure known as a pheromone.

Under the state’s emergency plan, beekeepers and farmers won’t be allowed to move bees beyond a two-mile radius of where the swarm was trapped.

Agriculture officials worry about the impact. Killer bees are more difficult to manage than European ones, which have lost much of their fighting spirit through centuries of breeding for agriculture.

The USDA has estimated that the Africanization of U.S. bees could cost beekeepers up to $58 million a year and cost farmers more than $40 million a year through an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in bee-pollinated crops.

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