Africanized honeybees found in Stillwater

Friday, May 23rd 2008, 12:36 pm
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

A hybrid strain of Africanized honeybees found on preschool playground equipment in Stillwater suggests the aggressive bees continue to spread north through the state.

Bees of this type hadn't been seen previously as far north as Payne County.

Renaissance Preschool staff spotted the bees huddled together on a playground toy.

"I came out and was like ‘Oh my gosh,'" Day care director Toni Wolfe said. "It was just unbelievable."

No one was hurt by the bees, which can swarm by the thousands and attack humans and animals if threatened.

The bees typically swarm during this part of the spring season, before the weather gets too hot and while rains have subsided a bit, said Rick Grantham, an entomologist at Oklahoma State University.

Grantham said the bees were brought from Africa to South America, and have been spreading north. They reached Texas in 1990, and in 2004 they first showed up in far southwest Oklahoma.

Since then, he said, sightings of the bees have been confirmed in more than 31 counties.

In April 2007, Africanized honeybees killed a horse in Comanche, he said. A month later a small dog in Apache was stung to death by a swarm.

Pest control expert Harley Coleman responded to the Stillwater preschool's call about the bees. He didn't know they were an Africanized hybrid, and said he sprayed them with insecticides without wearing a protective bee suit.

"I didn't have a bee suit on, but we do have bee suits," Coleman said. "I didn't figure they were killer bees because they had never been found (this far north in Oklahoma), but I know I will wear one in the future, that's for sure."

The bees were clumped together in a big ball, about 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall, he said.

After the bees were exterminated without incident, they went to Oklahoma State University for tests to see if they were Africanized honeybees or just the more common, less aggressive variety from Europe.

Grantham, who did the tests, said the bees had DNA from Africanized honeybees but their wings and legs looked more like European honeybees, suggesting they were hybrids.