Last month, a Dougherty County man was killed by numerous bee stings after accidently disturbing a hive while operating a bulldozer. The Georgia Department of Agriculture has determined through entomological testing that the bees in question were an Africanized strain of honeybee -- the first such bees in Georgia. These bees are identical in appearance to "normal" honeybees, but they swarm more often and are more protective of their hive than their European counterparts.
Swarms of bees are most likely to be seen in the spring and fall each year. Swarms develop when a hive gets too full or crowded and a portion of the bees leave to form a new hive. Since a swarm does not have a hive to protect, they are generally docile and rarely sting. However, you should treat them like any other wild animal -- leave them alone! Do not spray them with water or poison or throw anything at them. Notify the authorities, but remember that a swarm is looking for a new home and will generally leave the area in less than 24 hours.
If you are attacked, run away or get indoors as fast as possible. Never stand in one spot and swat because this only aggravates bees further. Crushed bees release a scent that attracts and excites bees. Be aware that bees may follow you for as much as a quarter mile; that is almost the length of five football fields. Do not stop running to hide yourself because bees are likely to find you; the single most important thing is to get away from the hive. If you can take shelter in a home or vehicle, they can offer good protection. Don't worry about letting a few bees in as you enter, just close the door as quickly as you can to keep the swarm outside.
Just because Africanized bees have reached our area, don't panic. We have all gotten into the habit of looking out for fire ants and poisonous snakes, now we should also be on the lookout for wild bee colonies. Never knowingly approach an occupied beehive. During daylight hours bees can be seen flying to and from their entrance. Do not disturb a beehive. If you need it removed, call an exterminator. Never climb a tree, kick a log or stump, or move trash until you first check if bees are flying in and out. Operators of open-cab tractors are especially at risk from hidden in-ground colonies.
Unfortunately, many people have heard of African "killer" bees. The truth is that "killer bees" exist only in Hollywood movies. These are merely a hybrid of the African Honey Bee and the European Honey Bee. There are some precautions that we should take, but it is the same with snakes, ants and any other venomous creature. Remember that regardless of the myths to the contrary, Africanized bees do not travel in angry swarms looking for unwary victims. Their venom is no more toxic than any other honeybee. They simply protect their hives from what they consider to be a threat.
If you need further information, go to the Georgia Department of Agriculture website at www.agr.georgia.gov, or you can call my office at 229-430-6508.
Sheriff Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office for more than 27 years and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.