Originally created 05/03/01

Tests identify swarm destroyed on Florida island as killer bees



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - State agriculture officials confirmed Tuesday that a swarm of African bees, commonly called killer bees, was found and killed on Blount Island nearly two weeks ago.

The bees were detected and destroyed April 18 by a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, who then submitted the bees for three types of tests at the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The tests were done last week and determined that the swarm was definitely African in origin. African bees are more defensive than other bees and have killed at least five people in the United States since 1990.

The swarm was seen and reported by a crew member on a barge that originated in Puerto Rico, which has an established African bee population.

The finding marked the first time this year that African bees have been detected in Florida. It was the third such detection in Jacksonville since 1999 - the other two were also at Blount Island.

Malcolm Sanford, a bee-keeping specialist at the University of Florida, wasn't surprised at the latest discovery and said the only thing newsworthy about the incident is the name "killer bees."

"It's something that sticks, but here is no smoking gun or hot issue that I know of," he said. "There is no big deal."

Mr. Sanford said colonies of African bees already exist in the southwestern United States.

But Maeve McConnell, spokeswoman for the state's agriculture service, said although the bees aren't aggressive when they're in transit, they can be dangerous once they establish a hive and have to defend it.

She was unsure how many bees were in the swarm discovered two weeks ago.

Robert Peek, Jacksonville Port Authority spokesman, said bait hives are in place on the island and dock workers have been told to report sightings of swarms of bees.

"It's commonly known that bees could come into the port," he said. "This particular finding of bees doesn't raise any concerns that we already have."

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Terry L. Rhodes said, "We're pleased that our regular inspection of bait hives and program of training ship and dockworkers to recognize and report bee swarms revealed the presence of this swarm quickly before harm came to anyone."

Swarms have been detected in Florida 29 times since 1983, when a swarm of unknown origin was detected on a ship in the port of Miami.

The USDA and the state jointly operate an African bee detection program.

Duval County has a detection grid of 25 bait hives in place because of its heavy port traffic. About 500 bait hives are in place throughout the state for the detection of African bees, primarily in port areas, along Interstate 10 and on the Florida and Alabama borders, according to the state.