Residents trying to co-exist with bees

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ Staff Writer

Africanized honeybees, or killer bees as they are commonly known, are here to stay, according to officials.

With a little education and a keen sense of the surrounding area, area residents can co-exist with the insects in relative peace, according to Carol Sutherland, an entomologist with New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service.

Discovered last July in Roosevelt County and this year in Curry County, killer bees now make up more than half of the bees in the area, officials said.

In Curry County, 90 percent of bees are Africanized, according to Lewis Hightower of Southwestern Pest Control.

“They’re (Africanized honeybees) well established,” she said, “and will be in New Mexico for the foreseeable future.”

Africanized honeybees, which are descendants of southern African bees imported in 1956 by Brazilian scientists, are a more temperamental relative of the common European honeybee found in eastern New Mexico.

Sutherland said Africanized bees are highly protective of their hives and more likely to sense a threat at a greater distance. They also become agitated quickly and sting in great numbers.

Since there are no discernible differences between the common European bee and an Africanized honeybee, Sutherland said any bee should be given a wide berth.

The entomologist said knowing what to do before a bee encounter happens is vital for a person’s safety.

“Be aware of your environment,” Sutherland said. “Learn to look and listen for bee activity.” If bee activity is suspected, Sutherland said a person should run as quickly as possible to safety.

Clovis Fire Department Capt. Karen Burns said residents can canvas their property and greatly reduce their chances of encountering the killer bees. Burns said the bees need three things for survival: warmth, shelter and water. Sheds, flowerpots, feed storage bins and unused grills are ideal locations for the bees to build hives.

Between 1,000 and 10,000 bees can inhabit a nest, she said.

“Residents need to check attic spaces, cement and mortar for cracks,” Burns said, “because these bees nest in less-than-obvious places.”

Burns said the bees are agitated by loud noises and drawn to the smell of fresh-cut grass. Therefore, residents should pay close attention while mowing, she said.
“When you agitate one of these bees,” Burns said, “you agitate all of them.”

Sutherland said there have been cases throughout New Mexico where people have been badly hurt or killed by the bees.

“They (Africanized honeybees) do pose a problem,” Sutherland said, “so people need to get educated and be aware.”