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Farmer’s death puts national focus on killer bees


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  • With the recent deaths of a farmer in Texas and a mountain climber in Arizona, the spread and range of killer bees is gaining national attention.

When Larry Goodwin was stung to death by thousands of Africanized honey bees on June 1, the story had a near-fiction quality for many Americans. Goodwin, 62 years old, who farmed near Waco, Texas, was killed when he disturbed a hive while moving brush. The hive contained 40,000 killer bees and according to Goodwin’s family, he was literally swarmed over his entire body — 3,000 stings.

Exterminator Allen Miller, who removed the hive following Goodwin’s death, told US News & World Report, “It’s amazing what killer bees can do. With killer bees, all 100 percent think they’re supposed to save the queen and be killers. They terrify people out of their gourds because there are so many of them.”

In the 1950s, Brazilian scientists attempted to breed Tanzanian queen bees with European honey bees, hoping to develop a bee strain with strength in tropical climates. In 1957, 26 of the African queen bees escaped (or were released — accounts vary) and their descendants began pressing north. The Africanized bees, or killer bees, reached Texas in approximately 1990 and California in 1994. No longer confined to the Southwest and Western states, killer bees are established in Florida and Georgia, and have made inroads in Louisiana and Arkansas.


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The Africanized bees are nearly indistinguishable from European honey bees. “There’s no way to tell if honey bees are Africanized without DNA testing. They look about the same as the European honey bee. They tend to be a little darker than European honey bees and a little smaller. What sets them apart is their intensive defensive behavior. They’ve been known to chase their victims a quarter of a mile,” said Eric Mussen, Extension apriculturist, UC Davis. “As an area becomes colonized, the Africanized honey bees will show their true colors — they will exhibit their intense defensive behavior.”

After a sting, Africanized honey bees release a banana-scented pheromone that draws other bees to attack and the chain creates the swarm effect. According to the Christian Science Monitor, killer bees have killed over 1,000 people in Brazil since the 1950s. Several months ago, in Florida, a park ranger, Rodney Pugh, was nearly killed after suffering 100 stings while trying to move trash with a front-end loader. Pugh knocked over a hive hidden in an old tire and the swarm was on. “It was like a thousand little knives poking me in my body,” he told ABC News. “It’s the worst feeling, because you just had so many and they wouldn’t stop.”

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