|By DOUG GRAVES
LOVELAND, Ohio — “The bees are coming, the bees are coming.”
Some news media sources will have people to believe that Africanized honey bees have blazed a trail through Texas in 1996 and are making their way towards the tri-state region.
But Dr. James Tew said Ohio specialist in beekeeping from Ohio State Uni-versity Exten-sion, tri-state beekeepers don’t need to alarmed anytime soon.
“Africanized honey bees are more of a problem in the southern part of the U.S. and they’re moving towards the southeastern part of the country,” Tew told the 356 in attendance at last month’s Southwest Ohio Beekeeping School in Loveland. “And quite honestly experts in the field are not immediately concerned about Africanized honey bees becoming established. We’re more concerned about incidental incidences and the public overreaction to these incidences.”
Africanized honey bees made their way from Mexico to Texas in 1996. Since then they’ve been spotted in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida.
“The public simply gets panicky when the news media blows an incident out of proportion,” Tew said. “What people don’t realize is that they appeared in one county in Arkansas and just three in Louisiana. Furthermore, they’re more adaptable to warmer climates, so they’re not likely to head to the Ohio Valley.
“This story has no ending. We just love to be terrorized by bees chasing us around. And the media feeds on this. People in central Florida said they were infested by Africanized honey bees, when the press simply got hold of this, forcing the people to overreact.”
While the bees haven’t migrated to the Ohio Valley, Tew said many Ohio and Pennsylvania beekeepers are worried because some in these states bring migratory bees north and people are constantly traveling north and south.
“The truth is there’s some activity on the subject of Africanized honey bees because they’ve been spotted in Florida, and that’s a bit closer to home,” Tew said.
And should the Africanized honey bees get closer to home they’re a nuisance in more ways than one.
“Africanized bees do a great job of pollinating, but they just don’t do a great job of letting us control that pollination,” Tew said. “They’re better honey producers than the European bees we’re used to, but they’re certainly not as docile and friendly. They swarm excessively and they’re great at colonizing. We can suppress them, we can reduce them, but we can’t shut them down.”
To temper the fears of those in the audience that day, Tew said there have been just 15 deaths due to Africanized honey bee stings in this country the past 16 years. By comparison, he says, there have been 13,000 deaths annually from a fall in the home, 50 from lightning and 327 deaths from accidental suffocation in bed.
“I resent beekeepers who make horror stories out of Africanized honey bees,” Tew concluded.
Of the 356 in attendance, most had a few years experience under their belt. Many, like Gordon Fetters of Richmond, Indiana have been at the hobby for about seven years.
“I’m just a retired man who does this as a hobby,” Fetters said. “Last year I didn’t harvest much honey and the year before I had about 1,000 pounds of honey. I do it the old fashioned way, using natural methods with no chemicals.” Fetters has several colonies on his 11-acre farm.
Dylan Kishpaugh, 42, of Xenia attended last month’s school and has never dealt with honeybees. He invested in $400 in equipment that weekend and hopes to someday turn a profit with his newly discovered hobby.
“I was just looking for something to do on the side and it seems like a lot of fun,” Kishpaugh said. “This talk about Africanized bees sounds a bit frightening, but when an expert tells you Ohioans like me don’t need to worry; we’ll trust their judgment.”
This farm news was published in the April 5, 2006 issue of Farm World.