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Bee experts educate public safety officers (with video)

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Representatives from the University of Georgia and state bee experts were at the Albany Civic Center Tuesday to educate public safety officials how to handle calls involving aggressive bee attacks in the wake of a death here last year.

About 300 people attended the event, sponsored by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

While operating a bulldozer to clear land on Williamsburg Road in Dougherty County last October, Curtis Davis, 73, disturbed the first known nest of Africanized bees in Georgia. The attack resulted in his death.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, UGA, the Georgia Department of Agriculture and GEMA have been working to develop the state's response plan. That includes educating law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and the general public on how to best cope with bee attacks.

Barry Smith, one of the state's top bee experts, said 30-40 bee traps will be placed throughout Dougherty County beginning this week. These artificial hives are designed to aid in testing of the bees -- not exterminate them -- and shouldn't be messed with by the general public, he said.

Africanized honey bees are no more venomous than the traditional European variety. The danger lies in their aggressive behavior, UGA bee expert Keith Delaplane said.

"They're like traditional honey bees, but just over the top," Delaplane said. "They're more aggressive, they're more defensive of their turf, they'll chase you farther and they spread faster."

Bill Owens, a firefighter in Monroe and head of the State Beekeeper's Association, said he believes that public works officials and first responders should invest in beekeeping veils or suits as the best protection measure against the insects.

"It's not like they fly around looking to attack someone," Owens said, "but if you're on a bulldozer and you disturb their nest, it's on. ... You literally have seconds to seek shelter, so those who work outside or will respond need to have the proper equipment."

Dale Richter, a local bee expert who has been working closely with state and federal authorities to test bees in Dougherty County, agreed with Delaplane that standing your ground against attacking Africanized bees can get you killed.

"The word is run, run, run," Richter said. "The only way to stay safe once they've started to attack is to run as fast as you can for as far as you can."

The old adage of jumping into a pool or pond to get away from them won't work either.

"They'll just wait for you to surface and then they'll sting you and fly into your nose and throat as you're gasping for air," Delaplane said.

But while the bees sound terrifying, all of the experts Tuesday said that there is no reason for there to be any general public panic.

"We'll just have to stay aware," Smith said. "We'll continue to monitor the colonies and keep track of what we find and we'll learn to live with them. Fire ants are a dangerous insect, but we have found a way to live with them. We'll do the same with these bees."

The best way to combat the bees is to promote the growth of European bee colonies -- a move being undertaken by a local bee club which has been formed in the wake of the attack last year.

With their next meeting planned for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Chehaw, the area beekeepers are working to recruit as many people as possible in order to fight any spread of the Africanized bee population.

While operating a bulldozer to clear land on Williamsburg Road in Dougherty County last October, 73-year-old Curtis Davis disturbed the first known nest of Africanized bees in Georgia. The attack resulted in his death.

Officials say that they'll be putting out 30 to 40 bee traps over the next week. These artificial hives are designed to aid in testing of the bees not extermination and shouldn't be messed with by the general public.

One feral colony has been confirmed as Africanized Honey Bees in Dougherty County. AHB were also confirmed in two managed colonies in the county.