Bee Discovery Brings a New 'Quarantine'

Times Staff Writer

Agricultural authorities established a new, "informal quarantine" area near Bakersfield Thursday and prepared to search a canyon south of Lake Isabella in a stepped-up battle against Africanized honeybees.

Discovery of an Africanized swarm among 45 hives kept by a Kern County beekeeper prompted the new restrictions on transport of hives pending completion of tests, said Betsy Adams, spokeswoman for a joint federal, state and Kern County task force formed to fight the infestation.

"In a two-mile radius around where his hives are now--nine miles southwest of the center of Bakersfield--there has been a hold order put on all beehives," Adams said. "You could call it an 'informal quarantine.' "

Chuck Brewer, owner of the hives, said he had taken his apiary to the Jawbone Canyon area, 40 miles east of Bakersfield, this spring. While there, the Africanized swarm propagated at least one additional colony, which escaped.

Attack Humans

Africanized bees--so-called "killer bees"--are more dangerous than the common European strain of honeybees, because they are more likely to attack humans or animals in large numbers when disturbed.

After hearing of the discovery and behavior of Africanized bees in the Lost Hills area, Brewer notified Kern County officials that he believed his bees might include the undesirable variety, state officials said.

Confirmation late Wednesday that one of Brewer's swarms was Africanized made it the fourth colony of killer bees to be discovered since an oil worker found the first hive in June near Lost Hills, northwest of Bakersfield. The first colony is believed to have been brought into the country in oil well equipment.

Adams praised Brewer as "a real hero to the beekeeping industry and California agriculture" for calling in investigators to look at his hives. She said that all 45 colonies kept by Brewer will be destroyed, but that other beekeepers had already agreed to provide him the bees and queens needed to restock his hives.

No Expansion

The new restricted area centered on Brewer's apiary is about 25 miles southeast of the original 462-square-mile quarantine area around Lost Hills. Adams said there were no immediate plans to expand the formal quarantine area.

State officials urged beekeepers who have operated in the Jawbone Canyon area since spring to contact state agents so that their apiaries can be tested.

Brewer said he had obtained the swarm near Lost Hills while expanding his business through the capture of wild swarms. He immediately noticed the aggressiveness of the bees, he said.

"The bees were more defensive than other colonies, but were very productive," Brewer said. "They kept wanting to build queen cells and swarm."

Until moving the apiary to the Jawbone Canyon area, Brewer said, he prevented swarming by destroying extra queens before they emerged from the hives.

Adams said that workers for the joint federal-state-county Africanized Bee Project will begin searching the Jawbone Canyon area "as soon as they can."

Workers will talk to residents of the area, put up posters and search "for places swarms of bees would be likely to land," she said.

Allen Sylvester, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Breeding and Stock Center Laboratory in Baton Rouge, La., said Africanized bees might establish themselves more easily in an isolated mountain area than in a place with a heavy population of ordinary European honeybees.

A panel of bee specialists formed to advise officials on how to deal with the bees announced in Bakersfield last month that the ill-tempered characteristics of Africanized bees could be expected to disappear as they mated with the more docile common variety, which is far more numerous in the Bakersfield area.

Produce Queens

However, Sylvester said Thursday that "if it's more of an isolated area, so that swarm can produce queens who can have a higher probability of mating with drones from the same colony, then you have a higher probability of building up the undesirable type."

Sylvester added, however, that measures against the bees may also be easier to take in isolated areas.

"Pesticide spraying becomes much more feasible," he said. "It does have the potential for them to become established and become a problem. But I think it's something that can be handled."

Adams said the latest bee discovery prompted officials to tentatively schedule another meeting of the Africanized Bee Scientific Advisory Panel for next Thursday in Bakersfield.

How much of a threat is posed by the bees in Jawbone Canyon "is the kind of thing the scientific panel is going to be talking about," she said.

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