Texas' leading insect expert said he fears a media swarm and possible panic more than the arrival of the so-called killer bees in the United States next year.

"I know I'm the guy they're going to be calling," said Fowden Maxwell, head of the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University and chairman of the Texas Africanized Honey Bee Advisory Committee. "I'm going to be on the hot spot."He predicted the bees will cross the Rio Grande and enter the United States from Mexico by spring 1990.

But the insects, though aggressive, may be the victims of bad press."Its an unfortunate label," he said of the term "killer bees."

"We prefer `Africanized honey bee.' "

The annual death rate from bee stings in Texas is 0.82 per million, Maxwell noted, saying more people die from wasp stings or lightning strikes than from bees.

"The first person that gets stung or child or old person that gets killed, you know what's going to happen," he said. "The public backlash . . . "

Texas' tourist industry, which pumps $17 billion annually into the state economy, may be especially hurt, he said.

"I think the problem has been overplayed," he said. "I've had people calling me already afraid to go to the (Rio Grande) Valley because they want to know when the killer bees are going to be down there."

The bees escaped from a breeding program in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1957.