Drought, fire may deter killer bees

The bad news is that it has been a year of drought and raging wildfires.

The good news is that the fires and drought will probably keep the killer bees from reaching Kansas this year.

Or so says a Kansas University expert who disagrees with the warning from state agriculture officials that the bees are likely to arrive in Kansas this year.

“I think right now it’s a lot of hype about nothing,” said Chip Taylor, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “I don’t expect much to happen this year.”

Nevertheless, Kansas officials warned this week that the first swarms of the aggressive Africanized honeybees could arrive in southern Kansas border areas sometime this year. Traps have been set for the bees by federal and state agriculture officials along the border.

While Taylor said it was good to be prepared, the drought and fires have taken away much of the forage bees need for food. Also, the bees do not thrive in colder climates.

Because of the Kansas climate, even during mild winters, it would generally be too cold for killer bees to inhabit the state, Taylor said.

“The only thing that might change is if we continue to have warmer winters,” he said. “If we had still been dealing with winter conditions as they were in 1975, we wouldn’t even have them in Oklahoma or north Texas. But it has warmed up considerably and allowed them to move farther north.”

Africanized bees have been found in Oklahoma just south of the Kansas border, and they typically move north 100 to 300 miles a year. Over the past years they have spread into Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Arkansas, Nevada and Florida.

And some bees could manage to hitch a ride aboard a truck and be in northern Kansas immediately, but they wouldn’t last long, Taylor said. They would need a good habitat that would supply them plenty of nectar and pollen, he said, and Kansas doesn’t have that diversity of plants.

“They may get here, but their numbers will never be strong unless we continue to warm up,” Taylor said.