West Ashley bees not ‘killer,’ tests say

Africanized honey bees, the so-called killer variety, had not taken over a West Ashley hive where bees swarmed and attacked in April, researchers say.

The hive that bees swarmed from and attacked a West Ashley beekeeper in April hadn’t been taken over by the notorious Africanized bees, researchers said Tuesday.

The bees tested were predominantly more common European honeybees, said Brad Cavin, Clemson University plant industry apiary chief.

Africanized honey bees are popularly and wrongly called “killer bees” because they have what apiarists call a heightened defensiveness. All honey bees will attack when sensing they or the hive are threatened. Africanized bees will do it en masse and across a larger area. The behavior is aggressive enough that they have killed larger animals and people.

They have become a scourge in Southwestern states and have spread. Preliminary testing on the West Ashley bees indicated that more than nine of every 10 were hybrids of Africanized bees, but more extensive testing didn’t support that, Cavin said.

“South Carolina has so far managed to dodge the bullet with Africanized bees,” said Mike Weyman, Clemson regulatory services deputy director, who oversees the plant industry department. He credited the alertness of the beekeeping community.

“Suspected Africanized hives are rare and have not managed to gain a foothold in our state,” he said.

The hive found in April was the first apparent discovery of the hybrid bees in the state since 2001, when a colony of Africanized bees was discovered in the wing of an airplane in Greenville. The hive was destroyed. More than 30 other nests in the area surrounding that nest were checked and cleared.

About 2,500 South Carolina beekeepers manage about 30,000 honey bee colonies in the state, according to Clemson. The colonies produce 1.2 million pounds of surplus honey annually and pollinate countless plants in fields, gardens and landscapes. Nationally, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in added crop value each year.

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