HAHIRA (AP) — Georgia officials are worried an invasion of killer bees from Florida may cross the state line this year, before moving north into other Southern states.

The state Agriculture Department has placed traps along the state line to detect the bees’ arrival from Florida, where they have been found in more than a dozen central and southern counties.

Officials are hosting classes to teach emergency workers how to rescue and treat victims of killer-bee attacks, and they’re recommending that fire and emergency medical workers purchase protective bee suits.

“I would not be surprised if we find them in 2006 because there is simply no natural barrier between us and Florida,” said Keith Delaplane, a University of Georgia bee specialist.

The highly aggressive Africanized bees are already in Arkansas, Louisiana and some Southwestern states.

They are known as “killer bees” because they are easily provoked, attack in far greater numbers than docile domestic bees and will chase intruders for up to a quarter of a mile, a lot further than honey bees.

“They’ve got a short fuse and their reactions are exaggerated,” Delaplane said.

The killer bees were created when a researcher in Brazil mated European bees — the traditional honey bees found in North America — with bees from southern Africa, hoping to produce a hybrid that was more tolerant of the tropics. The resulting queens were more aggressive and 26 of them were released in 1957. They bred with European bees, producing the aggressive hybrid known as killer bees which spread northward and arrived in Texas in 1990.

Initially, there was a lot of hype about killer bees. Municipalities banned trucks carrying bees, and some property owners told beekeepers to relocate their hives, said Kim Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the federal Agricultural Research Service, which has studied the bees extensively.

But fewer than 20 deaths have been linked to killer bee attacks in 16 years, Kaplan said, and American beekeepers have adjusted by replacing aggressive queens with European queens to minimize the impact on honey production and crop pollination.

While killer bees have been spreading out from Texas at a rate of 100 to 300 miles per year, Florida’s bees arrived by “human assisted transport,” such as trains, ships, trucks or airplanes, Kaplan said.

Danny Drew, one of Georgia’s leading beekeepers, said he’s followed the killer bees’ spread through other states and is not particularly worried. Drew, his wife and their son and daughter run Drew Apiaries in the south-central Georgia town of Hahira, which honors bees and beekeepers with an annual Honey Bee Festival.

“I don’t look at it as that big of a concern,” said Drew, who sells honey and bees, including queens, and rents about 5,000 hives each year for pollination.

The killer bees are becoming less aggressive as they breed with European bees living in the wild, he said.

Tommy Irvin, Georgia’s agricultural commissioner, is concerned that the presence of Africanized bees could hurt the state’s sale of queen bees. While Georgia is a small player in honey production, it is a major supplier of queen bees.

The demand for queen bees has always been strong and since the arrival of killer bees, some beekeepers in Arizona have made a point of buying Drew’s queens to replace Africanized queens that invaded their hives.

Georgia’s beekeepers also rent their bees to farmers who depend on the insects for pollinating more than 90 crops, such as almonds, blueberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes and watermelons.

Africanized bees are considered less efficient than European bees, so they could lower honey production and pollination, Irvin said.

Delaplane predicts Georgia’s strong bee industry will prove helpful in curbing the aggressive invaders.

“We need lots of gentle European bees in nature to out breed the African types,” he said. “Beekeepers are an asset in that they know how to deal with these stinging insects.”

Delaplane said the chance of being attacked by a swarm of killer bees is about as likely as being struck by lightning, but the attacks do occur.

“With Africanized bees, instead of one or two dozen stinging insects, people face the risk of hundreds or maybe thousands of stings,” Delaplane said.

Honey bees don’t move around much and they often make their homes in hollow trees. But killer bees tend to relocate often and they create colonies in usual places, such as old tires, culverts and around water meters.

Those at greatest risk of stumbling on a killer-bee hive are people who work or play outdoors, Delaplane said.

“I honestly do think the majority of people in Georgia will be totally unaffected by this,” he said.

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