By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
The chances of eastern New Mexico residents encountering Africanized honey bees is increasing exponentially with each new colony, according to pest control experts.
Those experts are concerned encounters with the aggressive bees could lead to serious injuries or deaths.
Lewis Hightower of Southwestern Pest Control and New Mexico state entomologist Carol Sutherland presented a program to Roosevelt County Commissioners Tuesday in their regular meeting.
Hightower said 69 percent of the bees in Roosevelt County his company sent to the lab were Africanized. Hightower said the four-county area his company serves is testing out at 70 percent. Curry County alone is showing up with a 90 percent rate.
Africanized bees can only be differentiated definitively from the docile European honey bees by lab testing using DNA or wing measurements, according to Sutherland. She said DNA is the test of choice these days.
“We like to have fainted when we saw that number,” Hightower said.
“We knew it was bad, but we had no idea.”
Hightower said because Africanized bees are apt to swarm (divide and leave the hive) as often as every two months, the numbers of new colonies could be expected to increase 16-fold in the next year. The figures he presented show there could be 2,056 Africanized colonies in just three years.
“Any bee you run into you’ve got to treat as Africanized,” Hightower said.
“I’m worried about somebody running into one of these things and getting killed.”
Lucy Anders of Portales was attacked by a swarm of suspected Africanized honey bees last week in her yard. She was hospitalized briefly for the stings she received, but said at Tuesday’s meeting she was doing well. Because she gets around with a walker, she was unable to run away from the bees. She yelled for help and neighbors helped her get away.
Sutherland and Hightower say the best way to react to a bee attack is to run away and seek the shelter of a house or vehicle.
Hightower said U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines indicate eight to 10 stings can be fatal. Those guidelines say that 30 stings should be considered life-threatening by first-responders.
Besides their rapid increase in numbers, Hightower told the group he was also amazed at how aggressive the Africanized bees he’s encountered have been. He related how he had been on a bee call west of Kenna, and in the process of moving some old tires to get to the hive, he agitated the whole colony. He said he soon had 5,000 bees swarming around his protective bee hood. He said he was stung four times by bees that got under his hood, including once on the sinus passage by a bee that flew up his nose.
“I walked over a half mile from the hive, but still had 300 to 400 bees around me,” Hightower said, relating that he decided to sit down and wait them out. “It was over half an hour before they lost interest.”