The swarms of African bees migrating slowly from South America towards the United States may not pose the danger that officials once feared, a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector said Saturday.
Bill Wilson, West Waco, Texas, said a November tour along the east coast of Mexico by a group of government inspectors and commercial beekeepers found that while the so-called African "killer" bees have basically taken over the more domestic European strains, the newcomers are not nearly as ferocious as originally believed."We don't know if this is due to the cross breeding that has occurred as the bees moved north or whether there are other factors involved," Wilson told a gathering of Utah beekeepers at the Utah Department of Agriculture building.
"We (the group) came away encouraged - it's not doomsday," Wilson said. "We're not sure what is going to happen or even if the bees will actually reach the United States. But we can't say there isn't a problem, though."
Wilson said a more detailed genetic study of the bee samples brought back by the U.S. group is needed before the extent of cross breeding can be determined.
Earlier this year, the first group identifiable as African bees reached the Texas border. A trap line has been set along the U.S.-Mexican border from the tip of Texas extending about 400 miles to the northwest to monitor the anticipated influx. A similar trap line has been established about 400 miles further south in Mexico.
Wilson said there is some indication the African bees do not adapt well to colder climates. Whether continued interbreeding between the African and European strains will overcome that problem is unknown.
While the group did find that the bees were more feisty, they did not experience the massive swarming that people have come to fear. And, Mexican beekeepers said, the African strains - despite popular beliefs to the contrary - are good honey producers.
"It appears there are a lot of myths that need to be dispelled," Wilson said. "There will be a need to re-educate the public concerning the African bees."
Wilson said the group returned convinced that the African bees can be managed in much the same manner that domestic bees are currently handled.
In fact, said Wilson, a bigger problem facing U.S. beekeepers is the growing intolerance the public shows for commercial beekeeping. Such attitudes make it difficult for commercial keepers to ensure adequate supplies of bees to pollinate commercial orchards and other agricultural crops.