Bee Wars / Meet the “Killer” Bees

By Delia O’Hara

Sunday Living Cover / Chicago Sun-Times  01/11/87

Charles Lorence keeps 55 white wooden beehives lined up like sentry boxes on the edge of a junkyard in the farm country just outside west suburban Aurora.

The hives look deserted today; it’s cold, a good 10 degrees below freezing. The canary grass in the beeyard has turned a delicate buff color, and the berries are bright red on a deadly nightshade bush growing next to a ’38 Ford pickup truck in remarkably good shape.  Only bare canes remain of a stand of black raspberries that bloomed last summer amid a jumble of well-rusted farm implements.  The bees, whose hives face a field of alfalfa, were wild for the raspberry blossoms, pollinating them constantly, until the fruit was enormous.

Hundreds of thousands of honeybees flew out from these hives during the summer, traveling an average of two miles a day in search of nectar from flowering plants, which they use to make honey, their food. From this yard alone – he has five others – Lorence harvested nearly a ton of surplus honey the industrious bees made, literally, for a rainy day.

Using a “hive tool,” Lorence pries the top off one of the hives, revealing another box inside with a narrow hole in the top.  A small clutch of bees has gathered here, and a few fly out instantly, one tangling itself in a visitor’s hair, banging back and forth, caught between anger at the intrusion and the shock of the icy air. The bee doesn’t sting, though; finally it just falls away onto the ground, a casualty of the cold and its protective instinct toward its nest.

“I didn’t think they’d be so active today; it must be awfully warm in there,” Lorence says, putting the top back on.  He opens another box, where no bees are apparent, but the visitor can peer inside and see them milling around among the vertical man-made shelves in which they have built their honeycombs.

This is the “winter cluster,” a moving knot of bees that surrounds the queen and generates enough body heat to keep the hive at the temperature of a good day in the Bahamas. This behavior, combined with the brutal winters of much of North America, including Illinois, may be one slim hope Lorence and his bees have against a scourge now making its way toward our southern border — Apis mellifera scutellata, the African, or so-called “killer bee.”

That African bees will be in the United States soon is one of the very few things the experts agree on; if they keep on coming at their present rate, the bees will hit the Texas border town of Brownsville by the end of the decade.  Beyond that, any consensus among scientists, bureaucrats and beekeepers tends to disintegrate.

Some say the Africans will spread throughout the United States and much of Canada; others believe they will not be able to survive north of the southernmost tier of states.  Some say beekeepers will be routinely managing the Africans within a few years of their influx, and that they pose a small potential public health problem; others say they will wreck our beekeeping industry, play havoc with our agriculture in general and make a simple picnic in the park a matter for great caution.

Some U.S. beekeepers talk in terms of “bad bees” and “good bees” — they know about bad bees, because every beeyard has some.

“I have a lot of bees here that can give ’em a good fight,” Dewey Fain, a Llano, Texas, commercial beekeeper, says of the African bees. “I have read that they are cross-breeding with (European) honeybees as they come north; by the time they reach this far, it’s possible they won’t be much different from the ones we have already.”

“We’re concerned, but I think there’s a lot more talk about (African bees) than there should be,” says Irvin Eberly of northwest suburban Elgin. “We have aggressive bees; we have hives that disrupt the beeyard. From time to time we have to eliminate a hive – gas it off. It’s like if you have 30 or 40 families on a block, you’re going to have one that’s more aggressive than the next.”

But the American scientists who have been journeying to South America for more than a decade to study the African bees say the interlopers are definitely not just a testy version of our bee. True, no layman can be expected to tell an African from a European bee by looking at them; the physical differences are minute.  It also is true that the African venom is no more poisonous than that of the European bee, and that the individual bees are no more life-threatening.  Although a few people die each year in this country from an allergic reaction to a single bee sting, most easily survive the toxin from even multiple stings.

Nor are African bees aggressive in the sense that they go looking for trouble.  “They do defend their nests – vigorously,” says Thomas Rinderer, research leader at the Honey-Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research laboratory in Baton Rouge, La., in a perfect gem of an understatement.

Going into the midst of these bees, even dressed in a veiled bee hat and suit, is “like standing in a hailstorm,” says Eugene Killion, supervisor of Illinois’s apiary protection division in Downstate Paris, who has worked with the African honeybees in South America. “Some of the bees are banging you, some are stinging your suit. You can feel the venom squirting through your veil, and smell the alarm pheromone (a secretion that communicates that the hive is under attack) – it smells like bananas. They’re not much fun to work with.”

“We went out to get some samples, and we were well-dressed (in protective gear),” says Mel Coplin, an Arcadia, Texas, beekeeper who also has journeyed to South America to see the Africans.  “We found a nest and it had a little `beard’ of bees on the outside maybe half the size of your fist.  So I had a baby food jar and I scooped up some bees in it – and I got maybe 250 stings, I mean just like that.  It’s not like having a bee sting you; it’s like having a bucket of water poured on you.  Then we walked (the equivalent of) two or three city blocks through the jungle to our rental car trailing bees all the way.  A couple hundred of them got in the car with us.”

Scutellata‘s disposition was forged in southern Africa, where resources are scarce and competition for them fierce.  It is slightly smaller than the European honeybee, but it has a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude about defending its honey stores.  And it can be a killer.

Last July, Inn Siang Ooi, a 24-year-old Malaysian graduate student at the University of Miami, was stung to death by African bees on a field research trip to Costa Rica.

“He walked into my nightmare,” says Orley Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  Ooi was walking along a trail when a sharp bend brought him up against an “open-faced” nest, a veritable wall of bees that began stinging instantly, disorienting him and driving him into a crevice where he was trapped by the onslaught.  His companions vainly tried to save him, at considerable risk to themselves.  An autopsy showed Ooi had sustained about 8,000 stings, which Taylor says is four times the number anyone has ever been known to survive.

African bees defend a relatively huge area around their hives — about 200 yards, compared with 25 to 30 yards “on a bad day” for European bees, Rinderer says. They employ five times the guards, respond to disturbances three times faster and sting eight to 10 times more than European bees; once aroused, they will chase an intruder for up to half a mile.

As with other bees, the Africans die when they sting; however, African bees have a high birth rate, so that the loss of thousands in an attack has a less traumatic effect on them than it would have on a European colony.

Certainly hundreds of people have been stung to death by “feral” African bees – those from colonies in the wild – in South America since the escape in 1957 of 26 African queens from the apiary of a Brazilian scientist who had brought them from Africa in hopes of boosting honey production in his country.  Record-keeping has been woefully inadequate, but Taylor has counted more than 350 official reports of stinging deaths and he estimates that the total is at least twice that high.

After the bees’ fearsome ways become known in a new area, the death toll tends to drop somewhat.  Many victims appear to have been old people or children, or those unable to flee.  “You can outrun them, but you have to keep going,” Taylor says of the bees.  They have attacked funeral processions, taken over movie theaters and apartments, killed whole barnyards full of animals.  For every death, countless people require medical attention for stings.

The bees are also “full of interesting surprises,” says Rinderer, such as a willingness to “abscond,” or abruptly desert their nest.  The African bees make more honey than European bees do, but they also breed faster and use the honey up.  The fact is that the African bees “aren’t good for anything” man is interested in, says Rinderer, whose father keeps bees in Downstate Highland.

Unfortunately, scientists made this discovery only after the bees were entrenched in South America, the result of what Taylor calls “the classic case of an experiment gone awry.”

South and Central American cities now are forced to maintain teams of “swarm busters.” In Panama City and the canal area, more than 25,000 feral swarms have been destroyed in just 3 1/2 years, says Taylor, who was one of the first American scientists to work with the African bees.  He has no doubt that U.S. border towns will have similar experiences.

Swarming bees are relatively gentle, and so are the new, often inconspicuous colonies.  It’s when a householder climbs up on his roof to do some repairs, for example, and opens up a roaring, mature nest that the problems – and the headlines – begin.

But the public health menace the African bees present is just the most electrifying part of a very serious potential pestilence for the United States.

The humble honeybee plays an important role in our agriculture, pollinating $18 billion worth of crops. These services are not left to chance in American agribusiness:  Bees are brought in by the truckload to assure a good degree of certainty in getting male and female plant parts together in most fruits, many vegetables and nuts, and field crops like alfalfa, which often are fed to meat-producing animals. Without honeybees, the yields for many crops could drop substantially. Some, like almonds, simply could not be produced here without bees.

“Most fruit crops are not fully pollinated by one visit from a bee,” says Frank Robinson, secretary of the American Beekeeping Federation, headquartered in Gainesville, Fla.  “When you see a curved cucumber, for example, that means it wasn’t fully pollinated.  It takes an average of seven visits from bees to assure full pollination.  Each part of the blossom has to be pollinated — same with berries.”

Next spring, Lorence — who has a very small operation, really — will take some of his diligent ladies from their junkyard, load their hives on a truck, and drive them Downstate to pollinate blueberries there.  He also might run them up to Wisconsin during apple-blossom time.

Coplin, whose 2,000 hives spread over three counties make him a medium-sized beekeeper around the Gulf of Mexico, takes his bees to West Texas for the cotton.  Irvin Eberly, one of two commercial beekeepers in northern Illinois, occasionally deploys some of his 1,600 hives out around the Midwest for one of the big canning companies. These bee managers typically make $30 to $50 for each hive they put in a field.

With an influx of the Africanized bees, that is bound to change. Imagine filling the assembly line at the local widget factory with clones of Old West desperado John Wesley Hardin — he who once killed a man just for snoring — and you get an idea of the problems inherent in trying to put African bees to work for wages in the fields.

The loss of honeybees’ dependable services – just for $3.5 billion worth of fruits, nuts and vegetables that depend totally on insect pollinators – would cost consumers $100 million annually for every percentage point of decline in production, says Robert McDowell, a staff economist for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.  And “a five percent decline is not unthinkable,” McDowell said.

Wherever the African bees have gone in the Western Hemisphere so far, they have devastated the beekeeping industry.  In Venezuela, the annual honey crop dropped within five years from 580 metric tons in 1976 to less than 100 metric tons; in that same time period the number of commercial beekeepers went from 20 to two.  It’s possible to work with the African bees, but it is much more difficult and expensive; generally the new beekeepers are themselves an altogether different breed.

Mexico, one of the world’s top honey exporters, now is facing down the pest; Taylor reports that he has seen African bee samples sent from that country, and the Mexican government last month confirmed swarms in the Tapachula area, on the west coast just north of the Guatamalan border.

The Mexican government has proposed establishing a $17 million “bee barrier,” in cooperation with the United States and Guatemala, which would be centered in its own Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest land strip the bees still must cross on their northward course.  They have been traveling at a rate of about 300 miles a year.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is studying the Mexican proposal, under which the United States would put in the lion’s share of the money and much of the know-how.  U.S. beekeepers are highly skilled in terms of understanding and monitoring their bees, and much of what is known about African bees has been discovered by American scientists.

The government of Mexico is eager for the plan, and has earmarked $4 million and all the help it can supply.  However, so far Congress has committed no funds to the program, and recently quashed a $1 million allocation for seed money for the barrier.

“The barrier zone would be expensive to set up, but it wouldn’t take that much to maintain – maybe $2 million or $3 million a year,” says Milton Holmes, acting senior staff member for emergency programs for APHIS, which has been asked to submit a report on the barrier to Congress by June.

The “bee wars” that would be waged in the barrier would be a rather subtle genetic combat; since African and European bees are members of the same species, anything that would kill or sterilize one type also would affect the other.

Scientists working in the isthmus would be battling the fact that the African bees are genetically “superior” in the wild, in that they quickly usurp whole areas from their European cousins, at least in the tropical areas they have traveled through already.

African drones have qualities that give them a better shot at mating with any queens in an area, and African queens have been known to invade weakened colonies with their workers, who then apparently kill the European queens.  African drones also “parasitize” European colonies by moving in and taking up houseroom, discouraging the production of native drones.  And, African bees also “swarm,” or leave the nest in large numbers to form new colonies, three to 10 times more often than do European bees.

When your parents told you about the birds and bees, chances are they didn’t go into the complex bee particulars that make controlling the spread of the African colonies difficult.

A queen bee produces the sterile female “workers” from fertilized eggs, as well as male bees, or drones, which hatch from unfertilized eggs.  The queen herself is no more than a worker larva that during development is fed a special hormonal substance, called “royal jelly,” which the workers secrete. So initially, a queen is a colony’s whole genetic ball of wax. She will mate once, coupling in mid-air with as many as 10 drones that she encounters on her conjugal flight.

While all drones spend their lives as aerial drugstore cowboys, flying out daily to hang around as high as 50 feet up in the air, waiting for a queen to happen by, Taylor believes that the African drones start their day at a time when queens are more likely to fly. In any case, African colonies produce many more drones than do European ones, so African drones are more likely to dominate the mating with both African and European queens in an area where both types live.

If a European queen mates with 10 drones on her flight, and eight of those are African, then most of her colony’s new workers will be half-African.  After the two to four years of a queen’s life, when the workers sense she is failing, the odds are that the larva they select to be the recipient of the royal jelly treatment will be half-African. Then, if African drones continue to dominate the mating over time — and that appears to be the tendency — a few generations down the line, African genes will overwhelm the European ones.

But many U.S. beekeepers hold out the hope that the bees may become “Europeanized” genetically as they travel through Mexico, where they will encounter their first significant concentration of European bees.

The Yucatan peninsula is Mexico’s biggest honey belt.  A Yucatan farmer who puts up 10 to 100 hives along a road near his home can substantially enhance his income, and many roads are loaded with hives. But bee colonies are thought to be rather sparse away from the roads in the interior of Mexico, so the Africans may simply “hopscotch through these areas without encountering any European bees,” says Anita Collins, research geneticist at the Honey-Bee Laboratory in Baton Rouge.

When interbreeding does occur, after that first generation, “when hybrids mate, the genetic material gets dealt out like a deck of cards. A small percentage of the time, some are very African, others are very European.  It’s these few extremes that cause problems,” Collins says.

Taylor believes that “genetic dilution” is creating a drift back toward an almost pure African strain, so he calls the bees headed our way “African,” where some others, like Rinderer, prefer “Africanized,” to suggest that they are hybrids.  But even many scientists who don’t agree with Taylor’s theory of genetic drift admit that the stinging behavior doesn’t seem to abate to any acceptable level when the Africans encounter European bees.

So the idea behind the barrier zone is to maintain a wide strip saturated with European bees.  Eighty-eight stations set up in the isthmus would maintain tens of thousands of colonies of European bees, along with traps for male African bees and a system for “flooding” areas with male Europeans.  In addition, of course, it would serve as a huge open-air laboratory where scientists could study the bees.

Taylor is skeptical about the value of the barrier, in part because African bees appear to travel astonishing distances when swarming; they apparently flew 14 miles out from the coast of French Guiana to establish themselves on an uninhabited island there.

“We can’t keep people from walking across these borders.  How are we going to keep bees from flying across them?” he asks.

But Rinderer says that the barrier zone could slow the bees down, gaining five to 10 years for scientists who are frantically trying to find some way to neutralize what they believe will be one of the most disastrous insect pests the United States has ever faced.

“It’s leaky system, all right, but it could buy us some time.  The main thing is, if we’re going to do this, we have to do it soon,” Rinderer says.

The bees already have made isolated appearances in the United States.  The most spectacular was in the summer of 1985, when a machine operator in an oil field in Lost Hills, Calif., watched a horde of bees attack and kill a rabbit on the run.  The worker, safe in the cab of his machine, buried the bees’ underground nest with dirt.  Subsequent tests showed that the bees were Africanized, and that a total of 12 nearby nests also contained African bees, including seven managed apiaries.  It is speculated that the bees came into this country on a load of construction equipment from South America.

Just this past October, a swarm was discovered and destroyed in West Palm Beach, Fla., in a refrigerated container from a ship loaded in Guatemala. And dead African-bee stowaways were even found here in Chicago, in 1985, in the hold of a Brazilian freighter.  APHIS carefully backtracked the ship’s route through the St. Lawrence Seaway and several Great Lakes ports to assure that no live bees had escaped, says Anthony Drobnik, APHIS’s officer in charge of Illinois.  APHIS inspects ships coming into the Great Lakes and other ports, packages at airports, and cars at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

It has been widely believed that the African is essentially a tropical bee, not well suited to a temperate climate.  David Roubik, research entomologist for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute of Washington, D.C., and Panama, subscribes to this theory; he believes the bees’ advance in large numbers might sputter out in northern Mexico, where the terrain becomes arid.  The less suitable environment in the United States could also mean that the Africans who do come here won’t be able to compete with European bees, Roubik contends.  “We could see the tables turned,” he says.

One important unknown so far is the African bee’s ability to “overwinter,” which depends on a complex set of behaviors that includes the “winter cluster” that Lorence’s bees are in right now. However, “new data suggest strongly that the African bees will be winter-tolerant for almost all conditions of the United States,” Rinderer says. “They cluster very nicely. Their chief limitation for wintering seems to be the length of time they stay alive, which is a little shorter.”

Honeybees live about six weeks in the summer; those emerging in the autumn are different – “winter bees,” adapted for a cold-weather  life.  They won’t fly much, and they live much longer, attending their queen in brood-rearing in the early spring, then dying off when the new “summer” bees are ready to go out to meet the first blooms of spring.

Alfred Dietz, an entomologist at the University of Georgia in Athens, says recent experiments he has done in Argentina, where the weather gets colder as you go farther south, indicate that the bees will be able to overwinter in most parts of the United States and Canada.

“The Africanized bees did cluster – not as tight, but they did cluster. They survived in our experiments just as well as the European bees,” Dietz says.  The bees definitely can withstand low temperatures, he says.

As to the question of whether the Africans can produce a “winter bee” that lives long enough to handle brood-rearing, Dietz says nobody knows the answer to that question yet, but he believes they can.

Taylor notes that the African bees appear to have slowed down their course as they head south through Argentina.  He stands by his belief that they will not come into the northern reaches of the United States and Canada.

Says Dietz:  “No one has seen these bees encounter real winter conditions yet.  I don’t buy the argument that they won’t live long enough to do the brood-rearing – this notion of them as a `tropical bee’ bothers me.  We don’t know how well they’ll do outside the tropics until they get there.  So far, nothing seems to stop them.  This is the most incredibly successful animal we have seen in the WesternHemisphere in terms of where it has gone, and how quickly.”



Honey is a $130 million industry in the United States.  About three-fourths of it is produced by the 1 percent of the country’s 250,000 beekeepers who earn their living from their hives, plus the 10 percent who view their apiaries as a part-time job.

The overwhelming majority of American beekeepers are hobbyists, and it is an avocation that tends to be passed down through the generations.

Honeybees are not native to the United States, but the earliest settlers brought them from Europe, and subsequently spread them throughout the country.  The Indians were not impressed; they called them “white man’s flies.”

Beekeeping really caught on during World War II, when sugar was rationed. Bees cost virtually nothing to maintain on a small scale, and once people are exposed to the calm, industrious ways of European honeybees, they tend to get hooked.

It now is possible to buy the beginnings of a hive – a queen with three pounds of workers, or about 9,000 bees – for around $25. Shipment is through the U.S. mail.  “The post office is usually pretty efficient about letting people know their bees are in,” chuckles Steve Simpson, a Downers Grove teacher and hobbyist.

The “back-to-the-earth” movement of the late ’60s gave a boost to beekeeping as well.  “Bees don’t take anything out of the environment; in fact, they add to it,” says Eugene Killion, supervisor of Illinois’ apiary protection division.

Illinois has more than 6,000 beekeepers; fewer than 20 earn their living at it, says Killion, who followed his father into his job as the state’s chief bee inspector.  For now, he worries more about keeping the dreaded, parasitic tracheal and Varroa bee mites out of Illinois than he does about the African bees.  Every beekeeper, no matter how small, must register with Killion’s office, in part so the state can maintain vigilance against disease, and now against African bees.

A quick look at the membership list of the Cook-Du Page Beekeeping Association shows 30-plus members within Chicago’s city limits; at least one Chicagoan maintains his hives on the roof of his high-rise building.  Chances are that the bees seen in any given Chicago-area garden last summer flew out from managed hives.

“Some people think bees know their keepers, but really, they function almost totally on instinct,” says Simpson, whose hives are in a field a short distance from his suburban home.  Keeping bees makes him feel more self-sufficient; he also likes the fact that the honey from any apiary is unique, a one-of-a-kind stew of the nectars each bee finds on its travels.

“I don’t get stung much,” Simpson says.  “You learn to pick your time of day. If you want to work the hive you’ll go out during the day, anytime after noon.  That way, the field bees, which are older, are out collecting nectar – that’s good, because older bees are more protective of the hive.  Probably the worst time to work the bees is when it’s about to rain.  They know they won’t be going out, and they get crabby when there’s no honey coming in.”

Charles Lorence of Aurora, who teaches printing at a vocational school and moonlights as an apiary inspector during the summers, is a second-generation part-time beekeeper.  He loves his bees, even traveling to his late father’s farm in Wisconsin to tend to some hives.

“There’s no such thing as domesticated bees.  All you can do is manage them,” he says.  Wonderfully skilled and knowledgeable, Lorence recalls his father, who never formed much of a rapport with his bees, hurtling his honey-laden wheelbarrow out of the beeyard at breakneck speed, over a bridge across a little brook, trailing enraged workers back to the house, even into the kitchen, where his mother had to get after them with the vacuum cleaner.

For Lorence fils, it’s a much calmer, even cosmic experience: “On a warm day, working the bees with the wind behind you and the dandelions in bloom, you feel a harmony with nature.  The bees are so intensely interested in what they have to do that they are oblivious to you. You’re down to the basics of a creation that’s so evolved; you become one with the intricacies of the life and the order in that hive.  It makes you believe in a supreme being.”

The arrival in this country of “those rascals,” as Lloyd Lindenfelser calls the African bees, will touch almost every aspect of beekeeping in Illinois, and that’s even if it turns out, as local beekeepers fervently hope, that they can’t live this far north. Lindenfelser, vice president of the Illinois Beekeepers Association, a retired microbiologist and for 50 years a part-time beekeeper, says his group has speakers in on a regular basis to keep them up-to-date.

Beekeeping on the whole is a pretty peripatetic affair.  Some of the best American honey is produced in the northern states, but queens typically are raised in the South.  That’s because northern bees are only active for a few months, and beekeepers can’t afford to let them spend any part of that time going through the selection and rearing process for a new queen. So when one is needed, beekeepers simply get one through the mail, for about $8 apiece.

Some northern beekeepers also take their bees south for a sort of working vacation.  Irvin Eberly’s bees were hard hit by pesticides and bad weather this year; their numbers are seriously depleted. So the Elgin beekeeper, whose Honey Hill Apiaries, operated with his son Gary, is one of two commercial concerns in northern Illinois, already has taken hundreds of hives south, where they will work and rear the young through the winter.  When he brings them back north in the spring, his hives should be at full strength.

Efforts undoubtedly will be made when the African bees reach this country to control their spread.  Immediately on the influx of the Africans, importation into Illinois of queens raised in the southern states is expected to come to a summary end; queens will be bred either in the north under tightly controlled conditions that may include artificial insemination, or on American islands like Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Mel Coplin, a commercial beekeeper whose Arcadia, Texas, hives are about 300 miles, or one year as the bees fly, away from the border with Mexico, says he is “deeply concerned” about the Africans. A third-generation beekeeper, Coplin in 1984 sent bees from his own hives up on the NASA space shuttle; his son Steven manages the family’s Coplin Bee Farms.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ll be able to keep bees,” Coplin says.  “We enjoy it now; they’re so gentle and we know how to handle them.  We have 30 hives no more than half a city block from our house. If we had to deal with those African bees, we’d have to have them (at least 500 yards) from anywhere – and we’re in too urbanized an area for that.”

Some bee experts do discuss managing the Africans here – after all, there is something of a South African bee industry, with honey harvests conducted largely at night when bees don’t fly, with lots of smoke, which distracts bees from an intruder by making them think the hive is on fire.  And the honey industry in Brazil is making a recovery, using European queens wherever possible.

But entomologists Alfred Dietz and Orley Taylor are not among those experts.  The German-born Dietz, whose father kept bees near Frankfurt, talks about how exhausting it is just “dressing up like Santa Claus” in two or more heavy, protective layers of clothing to go among the Africans. “You can’t work with them for any length of time” in hot weather, he says.

To Taylor, the litigious nature of American society simply precludes the possibility.  “The public health menace will not be huge but it will be spectacular.  At least for the first five or 10 years they are in this country, no way would I manage a colony of bees I thought was African, because of the potential stinging problems.”

In any event, hobbyists almost certainly would give up their bees.

Beekeepers worry that even as the Africans approach, the public will confuse the bees they manage with the feral “killer” bees.  They fear that sweeping anti-bee laws carried out in hysteria and ignorance could strangle their industry as surely as those tracheal mites, and could estrange the public at a critical moment from the very people who understand how to handle bees.

When the American public comes to understand that it could soon be co-existing with the African bee, Taylor believes it will want “the big technological fix – and it’s not that easy.  Even if it were, so far nobody’s giving the money for it.”