Angry bees attack, state tests to see if they're 'killer' breed

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Jim Hunting stood outside his house in Beryl on Wednesday, watching as a state agriculture inspector collected bees from inside the rusty frame of an old Caterpillar tractor.

Hunting said he unknowingly disturbed the hive on Monday in the western Iron County community, angering bees that attacked in a swarm.

"It wasn't pleasant," said Hunting. "I was trying to move some stuff and stirred up a nest I didn't know was there. They were very aggressive."

Hunting said he turned on a garden hose and doused himself.

"I don't know if that helped or not because I kept getting stung," he said. He finally was able to get inside his pickup after being stung 25 to 30 times.

His mother Yula, who saw the attack from the house, called 911 and an ambulance was sent to the house. Hunting said he was taken to Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City for observation and released later that day.

The bees swarmed again Wednesday when Sterling Bascom, the inspector with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, collected some of the insects to determine if they are the Africanized "killer" strain of honey bee.

Africanized bees, which are more aggressive than their European cousins, were detected in Utah in February 2009.

"I'm guessing that they are Africanized bees because of how agitated they are," said Bascom of the hive in the tractor.

Bascom said it is impossible to distinguish the Africanized bee without genetic testing.

Dressed in protective gear, and assisted by a local beekeeper, Bascom used a small vacuum cleaner to suck up some of the bees he then put in plastic bags and labeled. The samples will be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Danielle Downey, a bee specialist with the agriculture department, said Africanized bees were brought to Brazil in 1956 by a researcher. Some escaped and worked their way north. They first appeared in the United States in Texas in 1990 and have been working their way north through Arizona and Nevada since, and were found in Washington and Kane counties in southern Utah early this year. Since then, several colonies have been detected in Iron County, including some in the eaves of a house in Cedar City that were destroyed by an exterminator.

Downey said the Africanized bee can live in smaller spaces than the European variety and survives in colder climates by building hives in protected areas such as attics or sheds. The bees can be transported by trucks, where they stow away in pipes and other parts.

She said if Africanized bees are found on private property, it is up to the owner to have the bees exterminated.

Once a female bee stings a person, she said, its stinger injects venom and breaks off, killing the bee. The stinger also produces an "alarm" pheromone that attracts other bees to whatever has been stung.

If attacked, the best thing to do is get to a closed space like a structure or vehicle, Downey said.

Sam Taylor, the Beryl beekeeper assisting Bascom, said it is understandable why the bees get so angry when their hives are disturbed.

"If some one is messing with your house, like kicking in your door, what would you do?" he said.

The buzz

For more information about Africanized bees in Utah, visit