COLLEGE STATION — A lack of moisture so far in Texas this winter may have put a damper on Africanized honey bee activities despite overall mild winter temperatures.
Inspectors with the Texas Apiary Inspection Service have been coming up dry in trap checks throughout the state all winter. And the state Honey Bee Identification Lab at Texas A&M isn’t receiving many samples from the public either.
“Everything is deathly quiet, but it may be the quiet before the storm,” said John Fick, apiary inspector.
“Aside from three brief cold spells, temperatures were unseasonably warmer in January and have been so far this month,” said George Bomar, state meteorologist with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. “But it also has been drier. January was modestly below normal and February already is substantially below normal in precipitation almost everywhere in the state.”
Fick said not only are inspectors not finding Africanized bees, but regular European bees haven’t been moving into the traps either.
“We still are inspecting the traps monthly, but in March we probably will go to twice a month,” he said. Traplines extend throughout the middle portion of the state, roughly from San Angelo to Beaumont and from Eastland to Buffalo.
Dr. Frank Eischen, apiculturist for the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Weslaco, said heavy swarming should begin within the next four weeks. He said some swarms already have been seen but most probably were “kamikaze” swarms, or those that ran out of food in the hive and leave to find food or die trying. The swarms likely to be seen in coming weeks are “reproductive” swarms that leave old bees in the former hive to find fresh nests for the newly developed bees.
“I really don’t know what the Africanized bees will do, but at this point, it would look like the swarming may not be that bad (in Central Texas) and may be a little later than in previous years,” Fick said.
By this time a year ago, the first swarm in a new county already had been detected in Central Texas.
Fick also noted that autumn in Texas was relatively dry, and trappings throughout the fall didn’t find many bees either.
“We hope to see a southerly push back of the Africanized bees due to weather. But for now, it is wait and see. We’ll know in another month or two,” he added.
Lisa Bradley, Honey Bee Identification Lab manager, said few samples have been received lately from the public.
“It has been very slow since November,” she said, noting one sample in January and another in February. “But that’s about it for this winter so far.”
Eischen believes the Africanized bees will move into some new territory this year, but he does not think the bees will establish heavy populations north of Houston or into the Dallas area even in future years.
“Unless the Africanized bees develop overwintering traits through breeding with the local European bees, we won’t see them living very far north,” Eischen said. “And that (overwintering) has not happened in Argentina,” which is about as far south as Texas is north of the equator.
He noted that the Africanized bees can adapt to cold temperatures, but it is the lack of food sources that causes their demise in places where plants don’t bloom all winter.
Eighteen Texas counties were quarantined last year. Tom Green County became the 70th county quarantined in Texas on Nov. 15, 1993. The quarantine allows beekeepers to move their hives inside but not out of the quarantined zone. Africanized honey bees were first detected in the United States near Hidalgo, Texas, on Oct. 15, 1990. One human death as a result of Africanized honey bees has been reported since then.