Lots of potential homes for Africanized bees in and around farms and farming equipment
17/10/02 - Levine - http://www.zwire.com/
MARICOPA - Is it time for Arizona farmers to go to Plan "B" as in bee... Africanized honeybee?
Farmers already have plenty to contend with between adverse weather conditions, pests that defy management techniques and poor markets. Do they really need an additional worry? Well, just when growers think they've brought their ulcers down to a mild ache, along comes a killer menace called the Africanized honeybee, only at this stage, these bellicose little devils don't seem like a potential problem.
As far as the farmers are concerned, the people that are going to have a problem with these nasty pests are city folks who find a hive and try to drive them away with a few blasts from the garden hose. Surprise, surprise... that only makes them mad, and the first thing Mr. Greenthumb knows is he's got 10,000 irate insects clinging to him, each one trying to give him a minute dose of a neurotoxic venom.
Meanwhile, back on the farm... back where there's a few hundred, maybe a few thousand acres providing plenty of room for all creatures great and small, the perception of a bee problem is about as far removed from a grower's mind as a 747 crashing in his field before he's had a chance to harvest his crop.
The reality is that with the proliferation of this strain of bees, the fact that they are reproducing at a rate far greater than the European honeybee is able to reproduce, the time is approaching rapidly when they will become more and more of a menace, not on the city streets but on the farms where conditions are ideal for them to set up shop.
It is especially true here in the Sonoran Desert, where farms provide exactly what these large colonies of bees need to exist, an abundant food source, much-needed water and, surprisingly enough, hundreds of ready-made hives. There are places on the farm that are so ideal, so ready for a swarm of bees to move right in and begin establishing a hive, that farmers might as well hang out welcome signs.
First of all, it's important to understand the process, the manner in which bees reproduce. Each hive or colony has a single queen that keeps laying eggs and producing worker bees. The time comes when she has produced more than the colony can support, so they will produce a new queen, which takes over for the old queen, who then moves off with her entourage to find a new place to live. "When that group of bees leave, that's called a swarm," said Dave Langston, superintendent at the University of Arizona's Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC). "A swarm is a big bunch of bees looking for a place to live, and once they find a place, they begin to develop a colony. It expands, and once it gets so large, then it creates a new queen and splits again, so you can see how the process goes. European bees do this once, maybe twice a year. Africanized bees do it four or five times a year, so now you know why they spread, because they genetically overwhelm an area by sending out more swarms to occupy good bee places. That's the reason they took over, the reason they were spreading 80 miles a year, getting up here from Brazil since 1955." In his duty as the superintendent of MAC, Langston is constantly moving about from one area of the 2,200-acre facility to another; consequently, he is always on the alert for signs of bees. Furthermore, all of the workers and scientists are also on the lookout for bees, and the moment foraging bees are spotted, the sightings are reported to Langston, and then he goes out and investigates, looks to see where they go off to with their collections of pollen and water. "This year alone, I think I've killed in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 swarms and colonies on this farm," Langston said. "Last year it was about 50, so in two years, I've probably killed more than 80 colonies, and a colony can have up to 50,000 bees. The reason we have to do that is that we have a lot of people working around here, and we have a lot of people out in the field that are in danger of running across a colony, so we have to make sure that they don't get established." Considering his experiences with bee infestations at MAC, Langston worries that area farmers may not be paying close enough attention to what's buzzing around them, not realizing that they and their workers could be subjected to a "killer" bee attack if they don't exercise caution and become more observant. "Some of the places that I've picked them up is an old cotton picker out in the back that we've been borrowing parts off of... in the picker head, there's a gear box, and there's small holes leading into it, and there was a colony started in there. We have an extremely large crane that has a square box beam that supports it with the wheels underneath it, and it has holes that lead to cavities inside this beam. It's hollow inside, and there's holes along the bottom to let the water drain out. Well, the bees got in there and made a colony. One of our guys goes to move the crane, and he doesn't know they're there, and suddenly bees are everywhere, and mad as all get out." Langston has found colonies in sprayers, inside of control panels and water meter boxes, on the sides of houses, in all sorts of crevices, and he even found some that had taken up residence in an old telephone pole that had somehow become hollowed out inside. He has also found them among the rocks and concrete that is traditionally thrown into ditches to shore them up against erosion. "Once somebody sees them, normally I'm able to get to them before they can really get started," said Langston. "I found one colony that was underneath a pallet, just a regular wooden pallet that was lying on the ground and had a bunch of pipes stored on top of it. As luck would have it, a piece of cardboard hung over the edge of the pallet, kind of enclosing it, and there was a hole in the cardboard, and a colony had developed underneath that pallet. They'll look for places like that near to the ground, because it's easier to keep cool, and they're going to be around agricultural areas, places where you have equipment standing for long periods of time, because there's ready-made shelter, a food supply, and there usually is water... leaky faucets, irrigation. There's always some body of water someplace on a farm." Langston theorizes that because of the drought and lack of flowers and moisture in the wild desert areas, that more and more Africanized honeybees will be attracted to farms. "There hasn't been any flowers in the desert since February or March, so there's no reason for them to be there, so what they'll do is they're going to pack up and go to another location, to where people are, because that's where the water and flowers are. They'll come to houses to forage, because the colony happens to be located close enough to where they can pick up water and food and transport it back to the hive. But they've been known to actually move the colony to that location to be even closer." The European bees would not pick up and move, because there's more food and water down the road, but the Africanized bees will do just that. It's called "absconding," instead of swarming, which is a reproductive swarm. This is an absconding swarm. It is not a case of the colony splitting up to find a new home and leave part of them behind. In this instance, the whole colony picks up and moves. They'll do that." Langston cautions that between the Africanized honeybees and the mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus, it is better not to leave any standing water around at all, especially on farms. In the summer, a regular water source is a real enticement for a colony to abscond. With the constant increase in bee population and the enticements that agricultural areas offer to swarms looking for a home, Langston feels that growers should alert their workers to be on the lookout for foraging bees and to note where they go off to once they have finished foraging, and if they are observed going off the property, then there's not a real problem. But if the foraging bees head for a sheltered place on the property, then Langston advises to call in a professional exterminator to kill off the colony before it can grow and split. If there is a continuing problem, he suggests either entering into a contract for regular service, or for the farmer or a worker of his choosing to get training in how to properly and safely dispose of colonies. The individual would also have to be fully equipped with all of the protective clothing and paraphernalia.
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