LAS CRUCES – Tens of thousands of bees built their hives in the rafters of a Doña Ana outbuilding — nearly 100,000 of them.
It was not unusual to see bees on their property, said homeowner Nancy Stone. But sweeping up nearly 300 dead bees a week was.
“I thought, these are honey bees so I didn’t want to kill them,” Stone said. So she went looking for a professional. And after months of calls, she said she was finally able to locate one.
The extent of the hives and the danger they imposed was not known to Stone until she made the call to Freedom Roofing and Remodeling, the only bee removal specialist in 10 counties. They removed the bees on Monday.
Stone was correct, she did have honey bees and they were dying as they searched for a source of heat through the structure’s skylight. But the bees in the Stone residence were Africanized honey bees, more commonly known as “killer bees.”
A hybrid of European and African honey bees, these Africanized bees tend to be easily irritable, more aggressive and attack in swarms, said Pyong Livingston, a bee removal specialist with Freedom Roofing and Remodeling.
Livingston said these Africanized bees are becoming more common in the area, accounting for about 70 percent of the bees in the Southwest region as they thrive in the warm weather.
“Mrs. Stone … did the right thing. She saved at least 70,000 bees,” Livingston said.
It is difficult to tell an Africanized bee from a regular honey bee until they swarm, said Ryan Hiles, program specialist at the New Mexico State University Entomology and Nursery Department.
Hiles added that Africanized bees are so aggressive that they tend to take over a regular beehive and mate with the regular honey bees.
Honey bees, both regular and Africanized, also play a significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that humans commonly take for granted, to a point where their extinction would affect the highest levels on the food chain, posing an “enormously grave threat to human survival,” according to a Center for Research on Globalization article.
When bee specialist Livingston went to remove the bees, he said he extracted four hives that totaled about 5 feet by 1 foot in ceiling space. This wasn’t the most Livingston said he has extracted, but it was up there.
“We extracted the bees and relocated them, but there aren’t too many beekeepers in the area, only one in El Paso, … so we took (the bees) outside the city limits in the desert and built an area where they could survive,” Livingston said. “We go the extra mile to make sure they survive.”
Honey bees are dying off at an exceptional rate. Between April 2015 and April 2016, beekeepers in the United States lost 44 percent of their colonies, according to Bee Informed Partnership.
Livingston said his company works in cooperation with Adkins Bee Removal, where he was trained to extract bees and relocate them. This, he said, is the best way to try to save as many honey bees as possible.
Livingston said an exterminator who kills bees, but does not remove the hives, may only be a temporary fix because it allows for more bees to repopulate the hive. Removing the queen bees and the hives is the only way to ensure the bees do not return, he said.
Africanized bees in New Mexico
Africanized bees made their way to New Mexico in the early 1990s, said Carol Sutherland, an extension entomologist at NMSU.
She said the bees were accidentally released from a lab in Brazil in 1957 and have since made their way north hitting every country in south and central America and Mexico.
They were first discovered in the United States in the southern tip of Texas in the mid-1980s and have since been found as far north as Utah and Nevada, according to a United States Department of Agriculture map.
Sutherland said that Africanized bees should always be a concern because they are quick to attack and so many attack at once. However, she added that to her knowledge no human has been killed by a swarm of bees in recent years.
Call for help from a specialist when you notice a beehive forming in your house or working area, Sutherland said, “cause they will come out and attack.”
Ali Linan can be reached at 575-541-5476, email@example.com or @Ail__Linan on Twitter.
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