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Stowaway Bees Take Over Flooded House

Killer bees infest flood-damaged house in St. Bernard Parish.

ARABI, LA - Aggressive Africanized bees drove away contractors hired to tear down a flood-wrecked house here, then drove off the beekeepers called in to catch them.

Mosquito control workers killed the bees, and the state agriculture department confirmed Dec. 20 that they were hybrids with the aggressive African strain, Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom said.

“This is the first positive confirmation of Africanized bees in a structure in the eastern part of the state,” he said.

Arabi is in St. Bernard Parish, which was entirely flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

Africanized bees were first found in Louisiana in July 2005, in traps on the western edge of the state. However, the Arabi bees probably did not come overland, Jimmy Dunkley, the department's coordinator of nursery and apiary programs, said Friday.

Rather, he said, they probably were descendants of stowaways who arrived in New Orleans on a ship.

Nine swarms have been intercepted at ports since 1988, he said: six in New Orleans, two in Baton Rouge and one, this past October, at the Port of New Iberia. Some were in shipping containers, some in barges, and some in the ships themselves, he said.

On Monday, Dunkley said, a crew from his department will set up a circle of traps a half-mile from the Arabi house in case any other swarms are still around.

Odom said, “We want to determine if the bees are now established in the southeast region of the state or if this is just a single incident.”

All of the overland swarms found in the state so far turned up in 2005. Two were trapped in Caddo Parish, one in DeSoto Parish, and three or four in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes.

Louisiana's line of traps has been moved since then from the state line to at least 40 miles east of it, Dunkley said.

Africanized bees are the result of an experiment to increase honey production in Brazil. A swarm of the small, aggressive bees escaped the lab in 1957 and headed north. When they mated with native strains, the offspring turned out to be as aggressive as the African parents.

They reached Texas in 1990 and have spread west to California and east to Florida.

“Because Africanized bees have been labeled ‘killer bees' for years, there's an idea around that they are bigger than European honeybees,” Odom said. “The truth is they're actually smaller but a lot fiercer.”

The venom in both sorts is the same, but Africanized bees will sting in greater numbers leading to a toxic reaction in some cases. Experts recommend seeking cover immediately to reduce the number of stings in a confrontation with Africanized bees.
Tags: insects, nature, new orleans, news, storm
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