CHARLESTON — A colony of Africanized honey bees — the first to be found in South Carolina in 15 years — has been destroyed in Charleston County, according to officials with the Department of Plant Industry, a unit of Clemson University that carries out state regulatory functions.
State Apiary Inspector Brad Cavin said laboratory analysis of bee samples from the hive, conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service Carl Hayden Bee Research Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, showed “an almost 100 percent probability” that the bees were a hybrid of Africanized and European honey bees.
“This appears just to be a localized incident, but as a precaution we have depopulated the hive and are conducting a survey within a two-mile area to determine whether any Africanized honey bees remain,” Cavin said. “Depending on those results we’ll decide whether any additional efforts will be required.”
The Department of Plant Industry discovered the Africanized honey bee colony in a a routine survey, a part of the agency’s charge to protect South Carolina citizens and beekeepers from possible disease or parasite outbreak in the beekeeping industry.
This is the first discovery in South Carolina of the hybrid bees since 2001, when a colony of Africanized bees was discovered in the wing of an airplane in Greenville. That colony, too, was destroyed and no Africanized bees have been detected in the state since.
Africanized honey bees defend their nests more vigorously than European bees and swarm more often. They were first introduced in Brazil more than a half-century ago and migrated to North America in 1985, where they are largely confined to the southwestern states and southern Florida.
The Charleston County case differs from the 2001 discovery in that these Africanized honey bees were not wild, but were found in a managed hive.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that we have found them here in a managed colony,” Cavin said.
The bees were discovered as Cavin was conducting research for the National Honey Bee Survey, a national examination of apiaries led by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and begun in 2009 to address concerns about the diminishing health of honey bee colonies. The survey monitors hives for diseases and other pests that threaten honey bee health.
During the survey in Charleston County, a beekeeper sustained half a dozen stings in one hive, prompting Cavin to take samples to identify the species.
“They did sting the beekeeper, but he was only stung about five or six times. With many Africanized bees you’re talking a hundred-plus stings at a time, and this hive did not exhibit that type of behavior,” said Cavin, noting that there are 28 subspecies of the bees with varying degrees of aggressiveness.
“At this point in time, there’s no threat to the Charleston area,” he said. “We are conducting thorough surveys of the area to determine whether any remaining Africanized honey bees exist.”
Cavin said investigations also are under way to determine the origin of the colony, which may have begun with the importation of a single queen or hive. It is not believed to have migrated to the state.
About 2,500 South Carolina beekeepers manage about 30,000 honey bee colonies in South Carolina. These colonies produce 1.2 million pounds of surplus honey annually and pollinate countless plants in fields, gardens and landscapes. Nationally, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in added crop value each year.
“We’re working with other government agencies and will continue to involve the South Carolina Beekeepers Association and local bee associations and any other stakeholders,” said Mike Weyman, deputy director of Clemson’s Regulatory Services unit, which oversees the Department of Plant Industry and is the designated state agency to safeguard the health of South Carolina’s crops, forests and landscape plants. “Protection against invasive species is a collaborative effort and we appreciate the help and support of those who share this goal.”
In addition to its Honey Bee Program, the regulatory unit protects the state from exotic and invasive species, ensures that pesticides are used safely, regulates the structural pest-control industry, verifies that fertilizer and lime meet standards and labeled guarantees, conducts programs for seed and organic certification, provides diagnosis of plant pests and ensures readiness to respond to a catastrophic event impacting the state’s agriculture.
This story courtesy of Clemson University.