Many shudder at the thought of a swarm of Africanized Bees huddled on tree branches, on the side of buildings and even inside houses, ready to attack. They have earned a reputation as ruthless; in the past 5 years, we've reported on four deaths caused by bee swarms. And that's why many refer to them as Killer Bees but what is interesting is that this is just one myth among many concerning Africanized bees. Courtney Weatherburne found out the facts today and how you can avoid a bee swarm:..
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
At the first sight of a bee flying near, fear overcomes and the initial reaction is to either run or swat the bee away.
Bees are seen as dangerous creatures even more so as a swarm. But have you ever 'stopped' to think about the social and economic benefits bees provide in Belize?
Margarito Leiva, Extension Officer, Beekeeping
"The industry was once striving in the early 80s. We use to have about 11,000 colonies; we had about 500 active bee keepers and this was very important because Belize use to export close to 10 container loads of honey to the European market. There was foreign exchange in excess of 1 million dollars which all trickle to these families. Today after the arrival of the Africanize bees everything collapse. The reason being is because the Africanize bees has a different behavior; you van never know what they will do, they are unpredictable. Bees are very important friends of us humans. 90% of what we consume of the fruits and vegetables, nuts that is produce and what we consume bees contribute to that through pollination. For instance, just in the US alone, bees contribute close to 50 billion dollars' worth in vegetables, fruits, nuts. Here in Belize if we take into consideration the citrus industry; 20% of the citrus production increase whenever bees are around."
Interesting perspective on these bees right? But what causes the unpredictability in the behavior of the Africanized honey bees? And how did they even get to Belize?
Margarito Leiva, Extension Officer, Beekeeping
"These bees tend to swarm a lot. They tend to defend their colony and they migrate. Whenever there is no honey in the hive they would just abandoned their nest and leave to another area. We had the European type of bees. These bees they produce a lot of honey; to maintain a huge amount of honey inside the hive. They never leave the colony except the swarm which is one time a year. In times of scarcity, these bees they prefer to stay and die inside the colony. So today, most of the hive that we have in Belize are of Africanize decent; we call them Africanize honey bees. These are no killer bees. Killer bees is a movie title. This individual that brought in these bees was from Brazil Dr. Kerr. He was charged to produce a type of bee that would increase honey production in Brazil, so he brought two sub-species of tropical bees and he mixed them with the local indigenous bee that we had at that time and that is what produce the Africanize bees. They somehow escape from their laboratories in Brazil and started moving close 400 kilometers per year until they reached Belize in 1986."
That's how long this bee expert has been around monitoring the honey industry
Daniel Gutierrez, San Ignacio
"I have worked more than 30 years with the bees and at the time when we started out we were producing up to 60 drums of honey for the year. After we were wiped out after they had this eradication of marijuana fields - that when they wiped out all the bee hives and from then it never came back."
And as much as they give, they can take away: While bees contribute to agricultural growth and as an extension of that the livelihood of Belizeans, these Africanized bees are also a community threat. They nest in homes and near populated areas - and one wrong move can provoke a swarm:
Clifford Martinez, Belize District Agriculture Coordinator
"We understand the situation. We also deal with approximately 8 bee cases per week, so we have to respond and yes while we are happy about the services, we also have to be aware of the threats that they posed. How best do we deal with that from the ministry's perspective - from our perspective, its partnering, its networking and establishing a proper network with Ministry of Education and with those in the health sector, because it poses a threat."
And while partnership plans and measures are being implemented in the Ministry, Belizeans must do their part in protecting themselves. Apart from contacting the professionals when a bee hive is sighted, if you are ever under attack, this is what you should do.
Arden Edwards, Toledo
"You do not run in straight line. If you run in a straight line, it's easier for the bees to get a whole of you. Try to run in a zig-zag situation and if there is stream, the best situation is to find a stream if there is one around and then you go under water and then you try not to come up at least 5-10 minutes because they will be right there waiting for you."
But bee attack survivor, Guadalupe Coc, did not even need to dash away from the bees, his quick response and immunity, saved him.
Guadalupe Coc, Stann Creek
"I just go and open the box to see them and what they are doing. When the man told us about that, I went to open the first box and then the second and the third box and they and attack me. I have a smoker, but it didn't help because and if I go into my house they will go behind me. So what I did was start to back up and put my smoke like this and I reach further and further and eventually they leave me. Later on in the evening like I cannot get up again, all night I was feeling the pain, but after that everything went away."
So as the bee experts put it, bees are our friends but if not careful, they can be our worst enemies.
According to Leiva, between the months of February and July the bees are normally calm because the production of honey is high but they are more defensive during the months of October and November.