The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has confirmed the state's first case of partially Africanized honeybees in a bee colony in Monroe County.

The discovery was confirmed last week after the bee keeper notified a state inspector that his bees were acting aggressively. Samples from the hive were sent to a state laboratory in Florida for genetic testing, and those results showed the bees to be 17 percent Africanized.

The colony has been destroyed and state agricultural officials now are working with area bee- keepers to monitor their hives for aggressive behavior.

In addition, officials also will be on the lookout for aggressive behavior among wild bee colonies.

"Citizens need to be vigilant, but not alarmed," said Mike Studer, state apiarist.

"This is a situation that can be effectively managed through good beekeeping practices."

Africanized honeybees are a hybrid of African bees and domestic European honeybees.

They look the same as European honeybees but are much more defensive of their colonies.

Their sting is no more potent than a European honeybee, but they attack in greater number, and with less provocation.

In 2002, Florida had its first positive identification of Africanized honeybees in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2010, a 73-year-old Georgia man was stung to death by Africanized honeybees after he disturbed a feral colony with a bulldozer.

The bees have spread throughout much of the southwestern U.S. In the Southeast, they've been reported in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, and now, Tennessee.

The Africanized strain is inadvertently spread as bee colonies are transported to pollinate commercial crops such as pecans in California and citrus fruits in Florida.

"We've been expecting this for some time," Studer said.

"It's believed that if the Africanized bees reached Tennessee, they wouldn't be able to overwinter, but last winter was exceptionally mild."

The Monroe County beekeeper purchased the colony last spring from an out-of-state dealer, Studer said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not consider a honeybee to be truly Africanized unless it is at least 50 percent African.

And while the Monroe County colony were less than 17 percent Africanized, they still exhibited a high level of aggression that made them dangerous.

"Eventually there is going to be some level of Africanization in all European colonies in the U.S.," Studer said.

"As long as they don't have aggressive traits, we're not worried."

Studer said researchers in Mexico are breeding African bees for reduced aggression.

"The big worry is someone would have an Africanized colony in their yard and go out there with a weed eater or lawn mower," Studer said. "Those are the kinds of things that set these bees off."

State officials say the number of registered beekeepers in Tennessee has increased in recent years.

There are approximately 3,000 registered beekeepers throughout the state who maintain a little more than 18,000 colonies.

State law requires all beekeepers to register their colonies. This enables the state apiarist to respond to disease problems and to provide free inspections.

Because Africanized bees tend to colonize in smaller spaces than European honeybees, homeowners should be suspicious if they see honeybees in the ground or small openings such as flower pots or bird houses.

If you disturb an Africanized honeybee colony, run and cover your head since the bees tend to sting the face and head. Try to take shelter in a vehicle or building, and do not attempt to rescue someone who is being stung without the proper protective gear.

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