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Bees mysteriously swarm RV park tree

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MITCH TRAPHAGEN
Lone Pine RV Park manager Dennis Courtway looks out at a swarm of bees that rapidly colonized a tree in his park over the weekend. Below is a close-up photo of the colony.


By Mitch Traphagen

RUSKIN - Snowbirds have yet to begin their journey south to the peace and tranquility found at Lone Pine RV Park in Ruskin but swarms of bees have mysteriously found a home in an Australian Pine Tree within the park. The bees literally appeared en masse overnight.

According to park manager Dennis Courtway, there were no bees near the tree by the end of last week. He knows because he had to cut a branch from that tree; damaged during a storm just a few days ago. The swarm appeared sometime over the weekend and looked well established by early Monday morning.

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MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Courtway first called the sheriff’s office for assistance and was referred to bee experts. The experts expressed surprise the bees could colonize so quickly. No one within the park has been attacked or stung by the bees and the experts expressed some doubt they were the aggressive form of Africanized bees, also known as killer bees.

The primary range of Africanized bees in the United States is in the southwestern states, though they are also established in Florida. Despite that, reports of attacks from Africanized bees are rare in Florida. The first reported stings in Hillsborough County occurred in 2002. The sting of an Africanized bee is not more potent than that of a common European honey bee, but what sets them apart is their aggressiveness and their ability to rapidly swarm and colonize.

Africanized bees were introduced in 1956 by a beekeeper in Brazil as a hybrid of European (or western) honey bees with the more aggressive African bees to increase colony viability in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Once released, the bees quickly spread through South and Central America, eventually moving north to the southern United States. According to the University of Florida, the expansion of the bees in the U.S. has been slower due to climatic limitations. Africanized bees do not survive in temperate climates as well as European bees.

Also according to the University of Florida, all honey bees, European and Africanized, will not hesitate to defend their nest should people venture too close. Africanized bees are more easily agitated than their western counterparts and will attack more quickly and in larger numbers. Children, the elderly, and those with handicaps are at heightened risk due to lessened ability to escape an attack. Attacks in the U.S. are relatively rare, however, and most occur on people who know a nest is present but either choose not to remove it or attempt to remove it themselves.

beeslonepine1IMG_8054That certainly isn’t an issue at Lone Pine RV Park. Courtway has called in the experts to resolve the situation with his uninvited guests. A Tampa biologist who reviewed photographs from the swarm stated that only a laboratory can distinguish between a European honey bee and an Africanized bee, but all bees should be given a healthy amount of respect. If the bees at Lone Park RV Park are Africanized, a professional exterminator will eradicate them. If they are not, a professional beekeeper can simply relocate them. Regardless, he suggested that people remain at least 100 feet away from nests of such size.

By the time this story appears in print, the bees should be gone. In the meantime, Courtway greets the residents of his park with a reminder to “watch out for his bee collection.” Prior to Monday morning, he didn’t even know he had a collection.

See the follow-up story from the Oct. 14, 2010, edition here.

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