Pest experts talk about Africanized bee concerns locally

By Tony Parra

Bee experts, health officials and pest control workers want Portales and Clovis residents to be aware of a serious Africanized-bee problem in the area.

Lewis Hightower and Bill Moyer of Southwest Pest Control said there is a possibility of even more bee incidents in Roosevelt and Curry counties than occurred last year. Hightower said the first swarm of bees in New Mexico were sighted in Hidalgo County in 1993. According to Hightower, over the years they have been migrating north and last year they were found in Chavez, Roosevelt and Curry counties, among other New Mexico counties.

Hightower said he’s been a beekeeper in Roosevelt County for the last five years.

“In the last couple of years they (bees) started getting more aggressive,” Moyer said. “I went from answering calls on six swarms a year to across six swarms a week.”

There were approximately 20 people who attended an educational forum on Tuesday at the Memorial Building in Portales. Those in attendance said the forum was very informative.

“What I learned most of all was that the only way to handle a swarm is to run away,” Wilbur Cogdill of Clovis said. Cogdill learned that some bug repellents will only make the Africanized bees more aggressive. Perfume, cologne and coke smells will draw their attention.”

Moyer went on to give people tips if they are ever attacked by a swarm of bees.

“It (swarm attack) can be dangerous and lethal,” Moyer said. “If you’re ever attacked, run in the opposite direction. Cover your head and get away. Dodge into the bushes to confuse them and throw them off. They go for your eyes, ears and face first.”

Hightower said there is no way to distinguish with the naked eye the difference between a European honey bee and an Africanized honey bee. He said people can tell the difference by the aggressiveness of the bees. Moyer said if someone runs into a colony of 1,000 Africanized bees, the entire colony will attack.

Hightower said bees are sent to be analyzed to the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Ariz. and to another facility in Maryland. He said there researchers can tell the difference because of the wing variations and through DNA tests.

Cogdill said the biggest concern he has is when people are working in their backyards. People may accidentally disturb a hive and get attacked.

“People working in their backyards can stir them up,” Cogdill said. “That’s my biggest concern and knowing that the sound of the lawnmower can aggravate them.”

Moyer said Africanized bees react to scents and vibrations, like the vibrations from a lawnmower.

Terry Teti, executive director of Community Resources Inc. in Portales, said one of her biggest concerns is how children will react to being attacked by bees. Teti said they need to know what to do in case they stir up or kick over a hive. Teti said the cost to kill a colony of Africanized bees can be up to $150 for the homeowner. She emphasized that there was no state or county budget for removal of bees on private property.

Moyer said the first colony of Africanized bees in Roosevelt County was found in Lingo, which is 40 miles southeast of Portales. Moyer said last year there were over seven colonies in Portales.

Roosevelt and Curry County Africanized bee incidents within last year and a half:

• Jene Evans of Kenna found nearly 80,000 Africanized honey bees at her home.

• An Eastern New Mexico University worker was stung 30 times by bees while he was working at the Lewis Cooper Rodeo Arena. The man had to go to the hospital

• An operator for Borden’s peanuts was attacked while he was working.

• Water-meter reader in Texico was attacked and had to go to the hospital.

• Bee hive found in a well at the New Mexico Christian Children’s Home.