Africanized Honeybees Attack, Kill Florida Man


 
 

Antigone Barton | | Sunday, April 13, 2008


PALM BEACH, Fla. -- An Okeechobee County (Fla.) man died a day after he was stung more than 100 times by what were likely Africanized honeybees hybrid insects that have been called killer bees state agricultural officials said Friday.

Robert E. Davis, 51, died Thursday of an allergic reaction to the stings, said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

His would be the first reported human death of an attack by the aggressive bees in Florida, Feiber said. At least five dogs, as well as a number of goats and horses, have died in recent years after attacks in which they were stung thousands of times, she said.

Davis had lived for the past three years in the wild, remote northwest corner of the county known as the Prairie, where mailboxes and street signs are scarce and dirt roads give way to grass roads. He lived in a motorhome on a friend's property, where he installed a swing and a fire pit, made good friends, kept close with his three children and loved the outdoor life.

"And he worked," said Ginger Brooks, the friend on whose property he lived.

Davis, known as Bobby to his friends, worked construction and was preparing to level a trailer for a job in an abandoned hunting camp off 101 Ranch Road when the swarm attacked him at10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

His mother, Jeri Adriance, said he had checked the trailer with a co-worker days earlier, stamping on the floor, and did not know bees had been seen there.

Davis had discovered he was allergic to bee stings as a boy in Fort Lauderdale, where he grew up. He avoided bees as a result, but a few weeks before the fatal attack, a bee stung him on the mouth and his tongue swelled.

A dose of Benadryl kept his throat from swelling, Brooks said.

He never would have taken the chance of being attacked by a swarm, friends and family emphasized.

"He had three children," Adriance said. "He lived for them."

Friends called 911 and met the ambulance on U.S. 441 halfway to the hospital. Rescuers performed CPR the rest of the way to Raulerson Hospital in Okeechobee, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit.

About 20 friends and family members camped at the hospital over the next day and a half, according to his son Brandon, 23.

After his death, agriculture officials sent an inspector to the trailer. The inspector sprayed the hive, killing the queen bee as well as most of the hive and collecting 30 bee carcasses for DNA analysis. Agriculture officials said the insects have been identified with "high probability" as Africanized honeybees.

Without their queen, the few surviving bees are flying "without any purpose," Okeechobee County sheriff's spokesman Ted Van Deman said Friday. "They don't pose much of a threat."

People still should avoid the area, he said.

While most bees avoid confrontation with humans, stinging usually only on direct contact, "the defensiveness of an Africanized bee can be set off by a Weed Eater, a lawn mower or a chain saw," Feiber said.

One sting releases a pheromone that prompts a swarm to attack, she said. A hive can hold as many as 40,000 bees.

Africanized honeybees are the result of a failed experiment in Brazil in the 1950s of mating bees from Africa with more docile European bees, Feiber said.

The genes of the bees from Africa proved to be dominant in hybrid offspring, producing an attack-prone breed.

The breed moved into the United States through Mexico, making its first appearance in Texas in 1990, Feiber said.

The bees appeared in Florida in 2002. They have been seen in all counties south of Marion, the southernmost county of north-central Florida, according to agriculture officials.

Although Davis' death was the first thought to be caused by aggressive bees in Florida, at least 17 deaths have been attributed to Africanized bee attacks in the U.S.

Davis, one of seven siblings, was divorced with three children: Brandon; daughter Lacy, 21; and son Chad, 18.

"His youngest said he's lost his best friend," Davis' mother said Friday.

On Thursday, friends gathered around the fire pit he made, where he liked to sit and enjoy a pi a colada, she said.

He had lived a life full of friends, family and work in the wild, isolated region, Brooks said.

"We were like a big extended family," she said. "Only our family's not complete anymore."

Staff researcher Melanie Mena and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Bee safety

Agriculture officials recommend:

* If allergic to bees, keep a bee sting kit, available through a physician's prescription.

* Check walls and eaves of structures; plug or screen holes.

* Look for bees in work areas before using power equipment such as weed trimmers, lawn mowers and chain saws.

* Do not attempt to remove bees or hives. Hire a licensed pest control professional.

* Don't tie animals to a stationary outdoor spot. They will not be able to escape a swarm attack.




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