Does Oklahoma Need to Worry About Killer Bees?
If you missed the news, the whole state is talking about 'Killer Bees' since an 81-year-old man from Maysville became the most recent victim of a swarm.
This early in the season, it's not clear if this is a one-off event, or if it could it be a new trend we'll all need to get used to.
Africanized Honey Bees
Every 90s kid can probably tell you that killer bees were a real worry back then. Interactions between these insects and humans were portrayed as a death sentence, but at least one country has managed to tame their fervent anger.
African honey bees were originally imported to Brazil because the honey industry saw exotic bee integration as a way to print money. African honey bees produce the most honey of all bee species, so evolving species on this side of the world seemed like a good idea.
Much like the hilarious story of emu-introduction in Australia, it hardly ever pays off to mess with the natural order of things. Much like coronavirus, African honey bees manages to escape the Brazilian lab they were being studied in, and it's still a growing problem in Central and North America.
How far have they spread?
When I was a kid, killer bees were just entering Texas and Arizona. It wasn't until 2004 that Oklahoma had its first official killer bee confirmation, but incidents were still rare. One of the first few person-vs-killer bee attacks actually happened in Altus.
Since then, there have been only a handful of these attacks in the last seventeen years in the Sooner State, but they don't usually produce happy endings. At least one person in Northern Oklahoma was killed in a bee swarm just a few years ago.
The stories have stayed somewhat frequent enough to remind people once in a while, but it's still not the big problem experts predicted they would be forty years ago.
While it's hard to find information on where the killer bee swarms and hives have expanded to these days, there was quite a bit of research done on them up til about a decade ago. Killer bees had infiltrated almost the whole of Oklahoma as of 2014.
What to do if you're attacked.
Like most bees, you're relatively safe in water. Hop in, swim under the surface as far as you can, pop out downstream, and run like heck.
If you're on land, it's a lot harder. Africanized honey bees will chase a perceived threat up to a quarter mile from their hive. While some people might be able to do that, the elderly and obese 60% of Oklahomans would struggle by the 20-yard mark, even in a case of life or death.
The man that was attacked in Altus years ago got a little help from a passerby. He hopped in the back of his truck and they took off speeding down the road. They were both lucky to escape.
Caution seems to be the best resolve for avoiding attacks altogether. Knowing where you're poking around in the yard. Listening for the tell-tale signs of bee hives.
Is there a solution?
As wild as it is, there is a solution to the killer bee... European queens.
Apiarists in Brazil have seemingly been able to tame these honey producers by reintroducing more docile European honey bee queens to African hives. Beekeepers in South America have had tremendous success with this.
This has been the practice across the honey industry for the better part of a decade now, which is why it's so hard to find hard data and maps on killer be activities these days. While it's still a problem, there's a working solution that is being put into practice when killer hives are found.
What does that mean for Oklahoma?
Caution is still the key to living in harmony with nature. Be aware when tending the gardens and working on the house. It might only take turning over a board next to your shed to earn yourself a world of pain.