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Bee invasion nears California's population centers; authorities plan steps

Associated Press, 08/06/98 08:32

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) - The aggressive honeybees popularly known as ``killer bees'' are migrating toward more densely populated areas in Southern California and Nevada, and the blame goes to - you guessed it - El Nino.

The hot-tempered bees have taken advantage of a wet spring and a profusion of pollen sources to expand their range to areas not far from Las Vegas, the Los Angeles metropolitan area and San Diego.

Experts say a person is in more likely to be hit by lightning than attacked by killer bees, and that most people can easily outrun swarms if they know the secret: Run in a zigzag pattern.

Still, officials are setting up county task forces to fight the bees' spread. In addition to the danger to people, farmers fear that the bees will disrupt the vital pollination activity of domestic bees.

``There have been stinging incidents in other parts of California, Arizona and Texas,'' said, Kathleen Thuner, agriculture commissioner of San Diego County. ``Eventually we will have the same problems.''

In the past four months, the bees have doubled their range in California and have colonized at least 12,810 square miles. Hives may be found anywhere from eastern San Diego County to Henderson, Nev., and Barstow to Yuma, Ariz.

The bees are descendants of aggressive bees from Africa that escaped from breeding experiments in Brazil in 1956. They have been moving northward ever since. In the United States, swarms have killed six people in Texas and Arizona.

They arrived in California four years ago, but were largely confined to desert areas until the heavy El Nino rains helped them expand their range. No one has been killed in the state, but there have been close calls, including an incident last month when a man was stung more than 100 times and trapped in his home for five hours.

In Nevada, the bees have spread as far north as Searchlight, 50 miles south of Las Vegas. Nevada officials predict the bees may reach the city limits by year's end.

``They're knocking on the door. If they get there, they'll establish themselves in Las Vegas,'' said Bob Gronowski, bureau chief for the Nevada Division of Agriculture. ``If they don't make that leap, they'll probably disappear in desert areas, due to lack of food and water.''

``We're going to have to live with this, just like rattlesnakes and black widow spiders,'' said Cal Kaminskas, assistant agricultural commissioner for Riverside County. The bees ``are out there and people have got to think about it more and be careful.''

© Copyright 1998 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc.

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