Clemson University researchers say further testing has found a Charleston County beehive destroyed after attacking several bystanders in May was not taken over by a non-native hybrid bee as first feared.
Department of Plant Industry researchers worried back in May that the beehive was the first discovery of “Africanized” bees in South Carolina in 15 years. Africanized bees are a hybrid caused by breeding European and African honey bees. Apiarists say they can be more dangerous than traditional honey bees because they are much more aggressive about defending their hives and often sting perceived threats as a group, rather than individually.
Crews destroyed the nest in Charleston County after initial testing indicated genetic material found in Africanized bees. Bees from the hive had also attacked several beekeepers and sent one person to the hospital for epinephrine shots. Clemson apiary chief Brad Cavin said initial US Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests found at least 93 percent probability the hive had been taken over by Africanized bees, but another month was needed before the full USDA test finished.
“Given that there was a strong possibility of this hive being Africanized, we weren’t willing to take a chance and let the hive sit there four weeks longer to get back the full official test,” he said, explaining why crews acted before the full tests were complete.
Researchers say they are relieved to confirm it was not an Africanized colony, which have not been found in South Carolina since some were found in 2001 along the wing of an airplane in Greenville. That colony, too, was destroyed and none have been detected in the state since.
“South Carolina has so far managed to dodge the bullet with Africanized bees, and the cooperation and professionalism of our beekeeping community is the most important reason why,” Mike Weyman, deputy director of Clemson’s Regulatory Services unit, said. “Suspected Africanized hives are rare and have not managed to gain a foothold in our state. All the stakeholders in this industry can be proud of that achievement.”
Cavin said his office has made several changes since May so it can test for potential Africanized bees more quickly. The changes include investing in a laboratory that will allow for local genetic testing of bees so the samples will no longer need to be sent to USDA facilities.