KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Scientists in the late 1980s said the Africanized or so-called “killer” bee
might reach extreme West Tennessee by 1996, but it hasn’t happened.
The killer bees’ march eastward from Texas has slowed substantially, leaving scientists scratching
their heads and wondering why.
“Initially, we thought they could have moved into this area quicker,” said Dr. John Skinner, UT
entomologist and bee specialist at the UT Agricultural Extension Service.
“We can be thankful they haven’t,” he said Friday.
Africanized bees have been blamed for several deaths in Texas and hundreds in South and Central
They began moving northward through Central America after escaping from an experiment in Brazil in 1957. They entered Texas from Mexico in 1990 and have moved northwestward into southern portions of New Mexico, Arizona and California.
“There is no prediction now whether they’ll ever get here,” said Skinner.
“All we know is that their northern migration toward Tennessee has been slowed considerably. At
this time, we can’t make any predictions.”
The bees once were moving through Central America at about 200 miles a year. Since reaching the
U.S., their progress eastward has slowed to a few counties a year.
“Several things may be slowing their spread, but these are only educated guesses,” Skinner said.
One suspect is the varroa mite, a parasite which attaches itself to the bee “and literally sucks out its
life juices. Kills the bee,” Skinner said.
Also, the Africanized bee may not be able to survive in harsh winters. “This is a tropical insect,”
Skinner said. “We’ve always wondered if they could survive a harsh winter.”
Skinner and other scientists speculated two years ago that the killer bees could reach Tennessee
from Texas by hitchhiking on machinery or equipment, but that apparently hasn’t happened.
Contact: John Skinner (423-974-7138)