Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seven Things I Didn't Know About Killer Bees

"The chief cause of problems is solutions." ~ Eric Severeid

I've been reading the book What Should We Be Worried About? with the subtitle, "Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night." Even though we're well-aware of the saying that 95% of what we worry about doesn't come to pass, we still tend to worry.

One thing I never worried about though has been killer bees. Over the years, and it seems like decades, there have been a lot of stories about these little monsters. Until this past week I never read beyond the headlines, always assuming it was a hyped up concern that helped sell magazines and newspapers. When I came across an anecdote about killer bees in a book I was reading I decided to arm myself with a little more information so that I wouldn't be so ignorant the next time this topic came up during a dinner conversation.

Here's what I learned.

1) Killer Bees Were Man-Made
I had no idea. Killer bees were the result of the law of unintended consequences. Scientists decided to create a hybrid bee by cross-breeding a Western honey bee with an African honey bee.

2) The Killer Bees were introduced to Brazil in the 1950s with the noble goal of increasing honey production.
It wouldn't surprise me, though, to learn that these scientists just wanted to see what would happen. "Let's try honey bees with Italian bees to see if they like spaghetti." Eventually they tried African bees, and it produced this new hybrid bee breed. This new "Africanized" bee was brought to Brazil were they were quarantined in an apparently a Jurassic Park-like enclave. Unfortunately, 26 swarms escaped, just like those raptors in the movie.

3) The Killer Bees really are deadlier than regular bees, much like automatic weapons shoot bullets more rapidly than shotguns.
I always thought bees die after they sting you. The have a stinger and when it stings you it is left behind in your arm, or ankle, or wherever they's decided to let you have it. Not these bees, though. Killer bees are extremely aggressive once you've stirred their ire. They have a very short fuse, getting pissed 10 times faster than other bees. And they sting you ten times more often than a regular bee.

4) The Bees have been spreading each year and reached the American Northwest in 2011.
That's right, these bee hordes crossed the border in 1985 and have been coming north ever since.

5) These Bees have bionic powers and will chase you for up to a quarter-mile.
You don't have to be a marathon runner to outrun these bees. They wear little devices that tell them they've chased you "far enough." That is, a quarter-mile. If you run a quarter mile and two steps further you will be safe.

6) Killer bees have killed horses and other animals.
Really? If they can kill horses, they can kill your children. And that's scary.

7) They do not like extreme cold or extremely dry conditions.
In other words, if you live in the Northland or in the middle of a desert you're pretty safe. I feel better now.

How dangerous are killer bees? As with many of the other terrors we're afraid of, most of our fears have been generated by media hype and sensational Hollywood stories. According to Wikipedia, where the information in this blog post came from, there are only a couple deaths a year from these bees. And if memory serves me well, there were deaths by bee-sting long before these Killer Bees appeared on the scene. As I once witnessed in high school: one should not serve chocolate covered bees to people with bee allergies. This, too, can be deadly and is not a very sweet thing to do.

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