Stop Trying to Make Killer Bees Happen - Pacific Standard

Stop Trying to Make Killer Bees Happen

Unless you're a farmer. Then you want them.
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An African bee extracts nectar from a flower as pollen grains stick to its body in Tanzania. (PHOTO: SAJJAD FAZEL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

An African bee extracts nectar from a flower as pollen grains stick to its body in Tanzania. (PHOTO: SAJJAD FAZEL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The semi-annual killer bee panic isn't even about bees this fall, but about a Chinese wasp that several vaguely-sourced reports claim has killed 42 people in Shaanxi province. Europe is also worried, as these "thumb-sized" monsters are allegedly massing outside Kent. They are, of course, not massing outside Kent, or you would be watching a YouTube video of it right now; it would be awesome. Still, the story plows ahead in all of its Yellow Menace-ish glory: the local, proper English bee will pose no match, and English gardens will look noticeably more wan come spring, after the invaders from China pillaged but failed to fertilize.

Closer to home, a Texan man died back in March after bumping a hive of so-called "Africanized" bees, and suffering 1,000 or so stings.

Factually, this would all represent a sad but ultimately ridiculous side note to the larger environmental question the bee migrations pose—so called "Africanized" bees, a crossbreed of European and African strains experimented with in Brazil in the 1950s—have proven highly resistant to infections that have caused die-offs of the non-mixed strains. Those die-offs have potentially disastrous implications for agriculture, meaning that resistant, Africanized bees coming to your town is a good thing, economically and scientifically speaking.

In practice, that story's a tough sell, where the Bee Rampage story is an evergreen. Here's a report out of Florida just yesterday:

"We don't know what type of bee it is, but we're going to make sure we get out and see what it is, see if its a regular domestic bee or an Africanized bee," said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young.

Beware of bees in Gadsden County. The sheriff's office is getting a whole lot of buzz lately, prompting Sheriff Young to suit up and learn more about the insects.

This after a hive with thousands of bees was found at a local home.

While it's unlikely the bees are Africanized bees there's still some concern.

The concern is more of a nuisance factor.

Thousands of bees from hives have been found to be getting into people's homes. Eight thousand to 12,000 bees are believed to be living in this hive. Robert Green spotted it in his pecan tree Tuesday and reported it to law enforcement.

"I watch a lot of nature shows so I keep up with the Africanized bees," said Green. "My first thought, could this bee [sic] Africanized bees?"

Could it, sheriff? What then?

High Country News' Ray Ring, dean of the killer bee beat, brings a note of sanity to the proceedings. Ring notes that, yes, the killer bees are coming, but they aren't actually killing anyone. He calculates 60 million people live in U.S. territory already hosting the insects. Of those, something in the high 59.9 million-person range have never been stung by one killer bee, much less by 1,000.

He doesn't mention non-U.S. places with "Africanized" bees. So far as anyone can tell, bees and humans are still co-existing more or less peacefully on the African continent. If these things are heading north in a rapacious swath, they seem awfully decent about leaving our Latin American neighbors alone, too; Reports of bee deaths south of the border are scarce. Ring, who first covered the story 10 years ago, writes that bee deaths in the U.S. total between a dozen and two dozen, which amounts to a rounding error when compared to fatal traffic accidents or gun violence. "Do we count the bulldozer driver in Texas who jumped off to run from bees and got run over by his own machine?" he asks.

To sum up: Maybe this isn't about bees at all. Consider the story that crops up every year. Long ago, a strain of bees is brought from Africa to the New World for use in the agricultural industry. A few escape, interbreed with tranquil, European bees, creating a hybrid no one can really define. This happens, of course, in Brazil. Termed "Africanized," these creatures start heading north in swarms, where the last non-interbred European strain is losing its productivity, in the face of malaise that's lowered resistance, competitiveness, and reproductive capacity.

Meanwhile, in Asia:A super wasp resulting from who-knows-what goes on a tear through three medium-sized towns outside the media hubs, leveling everything in its path, and heading, horde-like, to Europe, to kill the flowers.

Perhaps it betrays this reporter's university education in the politically correct late '80s (so, "education"), but it's possible this whole story was never about insects.

Ray Ring's excessively informed, fabulously-written take on the bee situation is here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpO4gvW6D3Q

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