Two more colonies of Africanized bees have been found in Georgia near the area where a man died from an attack. The colonies were destroyed immediately. Entomological tests confirmed that Africanized honeybees were responsible for the death of an elderly Dougherty County man in October. It was the first record of the strain in Georgia.
Since then, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has been monitoring bee swarms and trapping and testing suspect bees. Testing of more than 90 samples identified two more colonies in the southern half of the state near the first confirmed colony.
"It is unclear how Africanized honeybees arrived in Dougherty County," Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said. "The bees could have come from almost anywhere."
Africanized bee swarms are occasionally found on cargo ships coming from South or Central America. A container from one of these ships could have been transported via rail or truck from almost any seaport. Some beekeepers from other states winter their bees in Georgia. Some commercial beekeepers who produce honey or pollinate crops move their bees to California, Florida, Texas and other states where Africanized honeybees are established. Also, a beekeeper in the area could have purchased bees or queens that had African genes from a commercial beekeeper in another state.
"The important thing to keep in mind," Irvin said, "is that other states and countries have learned to live with Africanized honeybees. We need to move beyond the hype of ‘killer bees.’ Just as we have learned to live with fire ants, we will learn to take certain precautions when in areas where Africanized bees may be established."
Both the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the University of Georgia stress that beekeepers are the best defense Georgia has against Africanized honeybees. Without responsible beekeepers managing hives in the area, the density of docile European bees will decrease, leaving that area open to infestation by Africanized bees.
Removing managed bee colonies or zoning beekeepers out of business is equivalent to "abandoning territory to the enemy," the commissioner said. Only beekeepers have the knowledge and resources to maintain high densities of European bees that can genetically dilute Africanized populations.
"Because of the fear that accompanies the arrival of Africanized bees, some groups and even lawmakers may want to ban beekeeping in their city or county. These actions have taken place in other states and the result has been the same — it benefits Africanized honeybees rather than protecting a community," said Dr. Keith Delaplane, professor and program director of the University of Georgia’s honey bee program.
Although budget cuts have affected the department’s ability to offer services, Georgia agriculture officials are evaluating how to best monitor Africanized honeybees in 2011. The agency plans to resume trapping in middle to late February when the bees start to become more active.