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Notation: Lab report indicated the bees were 86% africanized!

  October 19, 2005

VENICE, FL --- On Friday, new Venice resident Pat Starr lost her 2-year-old puppy to an unusual killer: bees.

And it looks as if the aggressive new mix of the African "Killer" Bee and the typical European honey bee may have found a new home in South Venice.

Starr realized that her mini-daschund mix, J.R., was missing Friday after seeing he had pulled his chain out of the ground. She was horrified at what she found.

"I'll never get that picture out of my head of my dog lying on the ground crying, covered with bees," Starr said through sobs.


J.R. had wandered into the neighbor's back yard, where a large bee hive hung only a few feet off the ground, attached to an old piece of lumber.

Starr did all she could to save her suffering pup.

"I kept telling him that mommy's coming, mommy's coming," Starr cried. "I felt so helpless, I couldn't save him. They killed my dog. He didn't deserve that."

Starr received several bee stings in her attempts to save J.R.

"My husband is still picking stingers out of my face," Starr said. "They're in my face, arms, head -- everywhere."

A nearby neighbor saw Starr trying to save J.R. and came running with a hose to wash the bees off the dog. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done: J.R. had been stung several hundred times.

Starr scooped up her pup and drove him to the nearest hospital.

"I gave him mouth-to-mouth when he was born because he had problems breathing. ... I tried to give him mouth-to-mouth on the way to the vet, too," Starr said.

But this time, Starr could not save her beloved pet.

"He was the sweetest pup in the world," Starr said. "It's not fair. My pup didn't deserve it."

Starr's agonizing experience was made worse when she found out that the neighbor, whose property the nest resided on, had known about the hive and chosen not to remove it.

"Some child could get hurt," Starr said. "Why didn't somebody do something?"

200-300 stings

No one is sure what J.R. could have done to provoke the bees, but according to the Ark Animal Hospital vet and former beekeeper Dr. Robert J. Greenwald, the bees showed no mercy.

"The dog was stung between 200-300 times. ... The thing that concerns me here is that bees are never so aggressive that they sting you 200-300 times," Greenwald said. "Usually you hear of 15-20 stings. It could have easily been an adult or a child."

Greenwald believes that the likelihood that these bees are the Africanized honey bees is very high.

"I think it's very possible that it's Africanized (honey) bees," Greenwald said. "If Africanized (honey) bees are in this area, it's not just that colony that we have to worry about."

Local bee remover and biologist Bob Von Der Herchen agrees that it sounds likely that J.R.'s death was a result of the Africanized honey bee.

Von Der Herchen headed out to Starr's house Monday afternoon to take a sample bee and send it to Texas for genetic testing. This will determine if the bees are, in fact, the Africanized honey bees.

"We are starting to get them in the area ... some in Bradenton and in Lee County," Von Der Herchen said. "It's just a matter of time before they are here, if they are not already. I did encounter, in South Venice, some very aggressive bees recently."

Not the first time

This is not the first time that Florida pets have been killed by an angry swarm of bees.

In early September, a swarm of Africanized honey bees attacked and killed two Miami Gardens dogs. Several residents also were injured, but they narrowly escaped by ducking into a nearby house.

According to an article in the Miami Herald, three adults were taken to the hospital and treated for stings. The article also states that professional apiarist Adrian Valero had destroyed three other Africanized honey bee hives in South Florida within a month of the event in September.

Good news?

Since the hive was not on their property, there was not much the Starrs could do to have it removed. Hiring a pest company would have cost a minimum of $200, on top of the $300 in vet bills they are already facing. Even if the Starrs agreed to pay the removal fee, a pest control company would need permission from the home owner to enter the property.

After calling the county animal control and being turned away because bees are "insects not animals," they took action into their own hands.

The Starrs bought four cans of wasp remover, covered themselves up for protection and emptied the four cans onto the honeycombs. This, of course, is a dangerous way to handle it.

The Starrs were unaware that their efforts had worked until Herchen went out to inspect and remove the bees for free. What he found was that almost all of them were already gone.

This may not be as good as it sounds. Von Der Herchen believes that they have just moved to a new location to build another hive.

"I didn't see any dead bees," Von Der Herchen said.

Starr is happy to have the bees leave her neighborhood, but also fearful that another pet -- or even a child -- may be the next one injured.

Von Der Herchen is awaiting the lab results to verify that these bees were Africanized honey bees. However, even if all the signs are wrong and they turn out to be average honey bees, the fact that they are capable of this kind of destruction is still very alarming, he said.(Christina Elwell, The Venice Gondolier, 10/19/05.)

Notation: Lab report indicated the bees were 86% africanized!
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