Killers bees swarming Central Florida?

Killers bees swarming Central Florida?

Experts say African bee colonies are increasing and migrating northward, soon covering the entire state.

March 01, 2011|By Arelis R. Hernández, Orlando Sentinel

Eric Uneberg was walking his dog Sasha beneath the live oaks in the backyard of his Marion County home when he got a strange feeling that he was being watched. He looked around as the hairs on his neck began to stand on end. Nothing to the right or left.

But as Uneberg turned to go inside the house, he decided to look up.

“I thought it was just some strange animal hanging from the tree because it was big and brown and in the corners all you could see were these four golden-like feet,” Uneberg said.

They were bees. Tens of thousands of them. However, these were not typical pollinators.

The unusual hive is a trademark of the African killer bee, a honey bee subspecies that has swarmed the region as it makes its way north from South Florida. The infamous insect is notorious for viciously attacking both animals and people—anyone that threatens the colony.

The bees have been reported in more than 26 Florida counties from the south and along both coasts, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. But they won’t stop there — experts say the honey bees will likely encompass the entire state in just a few years.

Marion County is known as the front line of the African bee migration because cold winter temperatures kill the insects and keep them at bay, said entomologist Richard Martyniak, who works for various bee-removal services throughout the state.

Martyniak said there have been confirmed reports of African bees in all Central Florida Counties — Orange, Osceola, Lake, Volusia, Seminole, Polk and Brevard.

The bees are reproducing rapidly, adapting and migrating faster than expected. Jason Deeringer of All Florida Bee Removal said 80 to 90 percent of colony removals are inside homes and buildings

Martyniak said he’s been flooded with work removing feral hives from urban apartment complexes in Kissimmee and Orlando to killing dangerous colonies near golf courses as far north as The Villages.

African bee or typical honey bee?

African or killer bees are practically indistinguishable from the typical honey bee — except in behavior.

Commercial honey bees are more docile and tamed easily by beekeepers. Unlike the African bees that prefer tight compact places, these bees construct their hives high above the ground in trees and open spaces.

Martyniak said queens are choosing to mate with male African bees — who fly faster and are resistant to pests killing other bees —creating hybrid populations of highly-defensive bees.

Florida Bee Control

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