A hive of Africanized honey bees, also called “killer bees,” was recently discovered in Charleston County. It is the first time since 2001 that Africanized bees have been found in South Carolina. In 2001, a colony of Africanized honey bees was found on the wing of an airplane and was quickly destroyed. These two cases differ, in that the 2001 case involved wild bees, whereas the Charleston County case involved a managed hive.
The hive was destroyed and is considered to have been a localized issue, but State Apiary Inspector Brad Cavin said in a press release that he still intends to conduct “a survey within a two-mile area to determine whether any Africanized honey bees remain.” Currently, however, officials have said there is no immediate threat to the Charleston area.
The Charleston County hive was discovered during a routine survey performed by the Department of Plant Industry, a unit of Clemson University. Such checks are designed to protect South Carolina citizens and beekeepers from possible diseases and parasites that may be contracted within the beekeeping industry. Cavin was the one who found the bees during the survey. After the beekeeper was stung half a dozen times by the same hive, Cavin requested that a sample be taken and sent to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Carl Hayden Bee Research Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. There, it was confirmed that there was almost a 100 percent probability that the bees were Africanized and European hybrids of honey bees. The bees are believed to have made their way to Charleston through the importation of a single queen or hive, not through migration.
Africanized bees were first introduced in Brazil over fifty years ago in an effort to create a hybrid species of bee that would produce more honey. However, National Geographic explains that as scientists were experimenting with the bees, some escaped and spread. They eventually migrated to North America in 1985, but they have mainly been confined to the southwestern states and southern Florida.
Africanized honey bees tend to be much more forceful about protecting their hive than European honey bees. According to CBS, the danger of these “killer” bees does not lie with the amount of venom in the sting, but rather the sheer ruthlessness with which they sting. They may sting a human or animal hundreds of times to the point of death. The State says that it is currently unknown whether these bees could survive South Carolina’s climate long-term.